The Village Trip’s GuitarFest Series:
A Feast of Renowned Guitar Talent
By Kaju Roberto
Once upon a time, esoteric music of any kind was a thing that most intrigued me. This was the place where the most unique sounds and greatest musicians in the world made their humble and often times not so humble abodes.
As a young burgeoning guitarist, I grew up listening to 70s jazz fusion and prog rock, idolizing groups like Rush, Return to Forever, Weather Report, and King Crimson. I can remember the smell of vinyl after purchasing King Crimson’s 1981 album “Discipline” like it was yesterday. Yet it had been years.
Only very recently have I been listening to these genres and supergroups again. It was rather strange yet auspicious timing that while I was immersing myself in Mahavishnu Orchestra’s seminal 1971 album “The Inner Mounting Flame” (arguably one of the greatest jazz fusion records ever) and Tony Williams’ Lifetime “Emergency!” I received an unexpected email from the office to take my pick to cover any event from the Village Trip.
“Okay,” I thought, “this looks like fun and right up my alley. I think I’ll cover The Village Trip’s GuitarFest Three-Part Series.” Approved. Off to GuitarFest 1. Camera in hand, within 20 minutes I was on my way.
Upon arriving at Loft 393 on Broadway just south of Canal Street, as soon as I got off the elevator, I immediately knew I had entered my world.
What Made the GuitarFest Memorable?
If you love 20th Century experimental music and contemporary classical guitar ensembles, the Village Trip’s GuitarFest I-III from September 14-16 was an absolute delight and a feast of guitar talent.
Bill Anderson, the organizer of GuitarFest I, II, and III and the Director of the Classical Guitar Music program for Queens College, brought together a formidable group of his own students, Queens College classical guitar alumnus, and a few of his long-time friends who are some of the best contemporary classical players in the world.
As a highly masterful player who has performed with many of New York City’s finest ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Opera Chamber Players, Bill naturally knew who to pick. That’s why he chose to call upon his two friends, Oren Fader and Dan Lippel, who also are Master Guitarists, to lead Session 1. Bill asked renowned guitarist David Leisner to close it on Session 3.
All were super friendly to me, and afterward we chatted about our mutual love of 70s jazz fusion music – including the albums I previously mentioned.
Earlier, Fader and Lippel performed “Three Simple Songs” by Marti Epstein with an ensemble of four guitarists and one cello. Lippel followed with a solo performance on classical guitar called “Like Minds” by composer John Link.
Both were wonderfully played. With shifting rhythmic accents and unexpected meter changes, these pieces harkened to early 20th Century Stravinsky-esque works. They could be broadly considered contemporary classical. However, it is very difficult to “put a finger” on defining them.
The highlight and my personal favorite of GuitarFest 1 was the last act, where guitarists Anderson and Fader performed late composer Scott Johnson’s “Bowery Haunt,” a spectacular electric guitar duet which ran over 11 minutes. With its dissonant harmonies, contrapuntal melodies, and mix of clean, mild, and harsh distorted tones, this quasi-prog rock rendition was indeed a show stopper that paid homage to the late composer.
On Saturday, September 16, I attended the GuitarFest III performance held at St. John’s Church on West 11th Street.
There were two major highlights. First, David Loeb’s “Between Sea & Sky,” a beautiful meditative piece, was performed by three of his students. He wrote it when inspired by a Japanese garden in Kyoto where a view of a pond blurred the line between “sea and sky.”
Another major highlight was David Leisner’s mystifying version of Laura Kaminsky’s “Ruminations.” According to American Record Guide, Leisner is “Among the finest guitarists of all time.” Having witnessed his extraordinary command of the instrument both technically and dynamically, I can see why he’s had such a long multi-faceted career as an electrifying performing artist, distinguished composer, and a master teacher.
Overall, Village Trip’s GuitarFest showcased highly skilled guitarists resonating beautiful melodies and dissonances. Much of it reminded me of some of experimental prog rock guitarist Robert Fripp’s early work with King Crimson in the 70s and 80s.
This music might at first feel bizarre for those who have never been exposed to it, but the beautiful cacophony and strangeness of these guitar-centric performances felt like a meditation. It was a highly enlightening and enjoyable experience.
Check out the work of these Great GuitarFest Musician Composers:
Kaju Roberto is an accomplished musician, singer/ songwriter, journalist, and an award-winning producer. He is the artist Rad Jet on Spotify