Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gene Bertoncini's 2+2=1 on BluePort Jazz CD

Gene Bertoncini is one of the rare jazz guitarists who favor emotion over technique; his style perfectly illustrates how the body of a performer can physically connect to the body of his instrument and produce a unique sound. In my personal life I'm literally surrounded by guitarists, both amateur and professional, and so many of them favor speed and precision over a truly distinctive sound. I've always been one to champion a signature, a certain timbre that defines an artist, and Bertoncini excels at this. On his new BluePort Jazz CD, 2+2=1, he performs a variety of standards from such composers as Ennio Morricone, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Duke Ellington and more, and the combination of flesh, wood and nylon sounds like no one else on this planet.

Bertoncini is a generous enough musician, however, to share the stage with a couple of worthy colleagues--hence the album's subtitle of "a solo and two duos." While the first four tracks are Gene alone, the next five are augmented by fellow guitarist Mandell Lowe. Lowe provides an amplified counterpoint to Bertoncini's pure acoustic sound, and these middle tracks are revelatory in the way they show the different ways in which an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar occupy space--especially when played side by side. On the final three tracks, bassist Bob Magnusson joins in and is placed almost directly behind Bertoncini in a way that reinforces the former's guitar playing in a seamless manner.

This is the third CD I've reviewed from Jim Merod and his wonderful BluePort Jazz label, and again it qualifies wholeheartedly as a reference disc and exemplifies how the CD format is far from dead. Partnered with Len Miller of Soundstring Cable Technology, graphic designer Sharon Thompson and audio vanguard Steve McCormack (yes, that Steve McCormack), Jim has made a jazz guitar recording for the ages, one that is full of life and motion. Unlike many intimate audiophile recordings, this one is full of living, breathing artifacts from the recording that indicate the fact that actual human beings made it. Musicians breathe and move as they play, and those who are observing are far from motionless statues. (The final sections of this album were recorded live at a concert at Soka University.)

Merod also knows better than to hide the fact that these recordings were made in a variety of different venues and times. Collected throughout the latter part of 2008, Merod experimented with microphone placement to reflect each song and performer. As a result, 2+2=1 never sounds like one of those storied late night sessions that were captured in one take with all of the mistakes and diversions preserved. Rather, this is a meticulous chronicle of a performer who is known as a perfectionist--albeit one filled with emotion and humane sense of interpretation. This is highly recommended for all enthusiasts of intimate jazz recordings and audiophiles who are looking for the ultimate reference for acoustic jazz guitar.

You can purchase all of the BluePort Jazz titles here.

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