CD+DVD Reviews

Anthony Wilson – Seasons: Live at the Met. Museum of Art – Goat Hill (CD + DVD)

Four guitars, four guitarists, four seasons: a forecast for unforgettable and refined music.

Published on December 14, 2011

Anthony Wilson – Seasons: Live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Goat Hill 003 (CD + DVD), CD: 63:30; DVD: 48:19  (16:9 color) *****:

(Anthony Wilson – producer, guitar (tracks 1-5, 9); Steve Cardenas – guitar (tracks 1-4, 8-9); Chico Pinheiro – guitar (tracks 1-4, 6, 9); Julian Lage – guitar (tracks 1-4, 7, 9))

Guitarist/composer Anthony Wilson’s CD/DVD release Seasons: Live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art may portray the personality of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and autumn) but this hour-long performance is leagues away from Vivaldi. Wilson has fashioned a song cycle which reflects different times of the year but is also a vivid portrait of four skillfully crafted John Monteleone acoustic guitars named after the seasons, used by Wilson, Steve Cardenas, Chico Pinheiro and Julian Lage.

This project commenced when Monteleone told Wilson about the guitars he was constructing and challenged Wilson to write pieces which could show off the guitars’ tone, timbre and resonance. Wilson quickly responded the day after he held and played the guitars for the first time. The public heard Wilson’s compositional work on April 10th, 2011 when the four guitarists came together as part of the MOMA “Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York” program which included guitars by Monteleone, John D’Angelico and James D’Aquisto.

The 33-minute suite opens with a serene and ascetic depiction of “Winter,” which begins with Cardenas on Monteleone’s sterling silver, winter archtop guitar. As Wilson states, Cardenas “has that beautiful crystalline form of playing,” which is showcased as Cardenas strums slowly and thoughtfully, letting the melody unfold in a solemn, moderate way. Eventually the other three artists enter and a four-way dialogue ensues where restraint and reserved balance lead the way. The only thing which mars the discreet performance is the occasional audience cough. Pinheiro initially guides “Spring,” demonstrating the bright tonal quality of Monteleone’s spring-inspired, sunburst finish (white to blue) archtop guitar. Again, the four guitars unify as they saunter through Wilson’s samba-tinted arrangement. The melodies cascade atop each other. The tune is the suite’s most vigorous and energetic, and at times evokes John McLaughlin, Al di Meola and Paco de Lucía’s spirited trio dates during the 1980s. “Summer” has a languid characteristic exemplified by Wilson’s cheerful solo, where he utilizes Monteleone’s summer guitar which features a sunburst finish (yellow to red) with cutaway. When the other guitars join in, a bluegrass/country texture takes over which conjures a relaxed sunny afternoon with insects buzzing and blue sky overhead. The suite concludes with the wistful “Autumn,” fronted by Lage on the autumn guitar. The main theme moves from summer’s sprightly candor back to winter’s sober contemplation. When Wilson wrote the piece, he knew Lage would be perfect: “Autumn had for me a reflective theme that really suggested Julian’s playing.”

The 63-minute CD doesn’t end there. Each guitarist is given an unaccompanied selection. Wilson offers a medley of Wayne Shorter’s shadowy, lilting ballad “Fall” and his own original and likeminded “Meditation on Autumn.” Pinheiro highlights his Latin music roots with a dynamic version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Tide.” Lage whirls through a lighthearted interpretation of Eddie Lang’s charming “April Kisses” (marred again by errant coughing). Cardenas follows with an elegiac rendering of the standard “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” popularized by female singers such as Betty Carter, Barbara Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald.  In a nicely ironic moment, the foursome come together as one unit on a rich round-robin reading of Joni Mitchell’s folk-pop classic “The Circle Game,” where Cardenas, Lage, Wilson and Pinheiro meld and shape the theme into persuasively beguiling exposition, notes flying or floating left to right and right round again.

Fans will also appreciate Mark Ryan’s 48-minute accessory DVD, which merges documentary, performance and a photographic slideshow. As the saying goes, the film is a treat for ears and eyes. Monteleone explains the inspiration for the guitars as he carves one of his six-string instruments; Lage and the others express how much they enjoy playing the guitars; Wilson describes how Monteleone’s guitars stimulated his compositional creativity; but the best part is listening to and watching the four artists in a semi-circle on the museum stage, with close-ups and different angles which reveal the guitars’ beauty, the quartet’s intuitive empathy and the music’s magical splendor. One nice feature is that viewers can use the main menu to watch just the 15-minute interview section or the 33-minute concert; or the combined full film.

CD TrackList:  Seasons, a Song Cycle for Guitar Quartet: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn; Meditation on Autumn/Fall; Tide; April Kisses; Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; The Circle Game

–Doug Simpson




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