Thursday, May 24, 2007

today : guitar week pt2 "The gaps"

The second category of amateur guitarists are a completely different bunch. Of course, as I am placing myself in this group I am going to use words like maturity, subtlety and taste.

But don't get me wrong. As I have got older, I am still slightly possessed by an inner rock-star. The leather trousered groupie-ravishing, coke-shovelling, foot on the monitor, big haired finger tapping plank spanker lives inside my balding middle aged, semi-acoustic soul. I still want a guitar shaped like a spaceship, an infinite horizon of Marshall stacks behind me and a basketball arena of baying leather-jacketed, bandana- wearing tit-flashing sign-of-the-devil waving fans in front.

But these days the guitarists that trip off my thoughts are Amos Garrett, Barney Kessel, Ray Herndon, JJ Cale and any number of the people who appear on Steely Dan records. Basically I am not interested in speed as much as I used to be. Subtlety is the key - the beautifully placed chord inversion, the lovely caress of a well placed string bend, a clean tone rather than a raucous noise, tasteful use of counterpoint. There is a saying amongst guitarists "It's not about the notes; it's about the gaps between the notes" - a saying I'm not so sure that Yngwie Malmstein has ever heard.

Many guitarists of taste cite Amos Garret's solo in Maria Muldaur's Midnight at The Oasis as their favourite solo. It glides around the chords and Garrett almost nochanantly constructs, over a mere sixteen bars, a thing of natural beauty. It even includes what some would call bum notes, or at least misplayed notes. But that is the point.

Me, I can agree. Garrett's solo (serious mature guitarists actually refer to these things as work, as in 'the guitar work in this piece is subtle and sublime') is laid back and lovely. These days I prefer guitar moments, rather than half-hour wigouts. The solo in Good Intentions by Lyle Lovett is another great example. This time over eight bars Ray Herndon constructs a melodic solo that is nothing short of unimprovable - accelerating the song from a quiet section into an upbeat one by his sheer and simple choice of notes.

I could go on for hours like this: The slide guitar bit at the end of Torn by Natalie Imbruglia - 5 different notes in total - is perfection in the context of the record; the interlocking tones and parts woven by Johnny Marr in Some Girls are bigger than Others by The Smiths, the 'work of the late Robert Quine on Half of Everything by Lloyd Cole, in fact the greatest one-note solo by Neal Clarke on Perfect Skin all reflect tone and melody over sheer speed and technical panache.

But I won't, as I won't get to my main point, which time means I will discuss in my next installment.

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