Jazz CD Reviews

Earl Klugh, guitar – Hand Picked – Heads Up

Jazz legend reprises acoustic roots.

Published on August 25, 2013

Earl Klugh, guitar – Hand Picked – Heads Up

Earl Klugh – Hand Picked – Heads Up HUI-33201-02, 55:09 ****1/2:

(Earl Klugh – guitars; Bill Frisell – guitar (track 3); Jake Shimabukuro – ukulele (track 6); Vince Gill – guitar (track 10))

With his debut release in 1976, guitarist Earl Klugh established a sustained, creative legacy in the field of jazz. Discovered by Yusef Lateef, the self-taught Detroit native appeared on Lateef’s 1970 recording Suite 16 and George Benson’s White Rabbit. Subsequently he has explored a variety of musical styles and collaborations. This journey generated 12 Grammy nominations, including a winning effort with pianist Bob James in 1980 for One On One. His recordings have charted in the Billboard Top 10 twenty-three times.

Klugh has produced more than 50 classic charts for orchestra (Dave Grusin, Johnny Mandel). Additionally he has appeared at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival and written pieces for Kenny Loggins, Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin, among many others. Perhaps, his greatest critical achievements have emanated from his solo acoustic/classical guitar efforts. Both Solo Guitar (1989) and Naked Guitar (2005) revealed an agile, fluent mastery of guitar interpretation.

Klugh’s third solo venture continues the graceful, technical musical process. With sixteen tracks, including four original compositions, he embraces a diverse and melodic songbook. Opening the album, Klugh glows on the Bacharach standard “Alfie”. Combining a sprightly touch and meditative ambiance, the song comes alive with feeling.  Next is a jaunty take on George Shearing’s “Lullaby Of Birdland”. Klugh’s rhythmic timing is flawless and the tune resonates with the same audacity as the original. There are numerous interesting covers. On Vince Guaraldi’s inimitable, “Cast Your Fate To The Wind”, the essence of the symphonic feel is captured with less dramatic pretense. Consequently, this version differentiates itself from many of the others.

As a musician, Klugh has demonstrated an innate perception for collaborative flair. With Bill Frisell  the Rodgers/Hart’s beguiling “Blue Moon” is a tasteful, amiable duet of acoustic and electric guitar dialogue,   executed with precision. Utilizing the amazing Jake Shimabukuro on ukulele, the duo stretches out (over eight minutes) on the rock staple “Hotel California”. Their chemistry is compelling, and the latin-tinged melody lines are alluring. The latin influence returns on “More And More Amor” (first recorded by Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass). Drawing on country sentiment, a heart-wrenching adaption of The Everly Brothers classic, “All I Have To Do Is Dream” features Vince Gill and includes the only vocal on Hand Picked.

Pure jazz enthusiasts will appreciate “‘Round Midnight”. Monk’s transcendental chord changes and moodiness flow elegantly from Klugh’s acoustic guitar. His jazz licks are punctuated on “In Six”, a tribute to the 6/8 time signature. Whether it’s harmonic elucidation (“This Time”) or a nuanced approach to a romantic ballad (“Love Is A Many Splendored Thing”), Klugh delivers with passion and tender shadings. Even pop material like “Going Out Of My Head” and “If I Fell” sounds fresh.

Hand Picked is a musical treat!

TrackList: Alfie; Lullaby Of Birdland; Blue Moon; In Six; Cast Your Fate To The Wind; Hotel California; More And More Amor; ‘Round Midnight; But Beautiful; All I Have To Dream; Going Out Of My Head; If I Fell; Where The Wind Takes Me; Morning Rain; Love Is A Many Splendored Thing; This Time

—Robbie Gerson

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