By Peter Hund
The journey off pedal steel guitar’s beaten path continues with Perlowin’s third release: First he proved the instrument capable of rendering classical standards with unspeakable beauty on “Firebird Suite”; then he tackled Leonard Bernstein’s multicultural “West Side Story” with such aplomb it was like hearing the masterwork anew; now he takes listeners on an auditory voyage to the Mediterranean and unearths some sublimely exotic “Spanish Steel.”
First up is Manuel de Falla’s 1915 ballet “El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician),” a 22-minute tour de force embellished by sitar and five-string banjo, the former bringing the composer’s use of Middle Eastern modalities even more to the fore. The steel-to-guitar ratio overall is down from Perlowin’s previous two albums, with multitracked guitars on some of “Brujo’s” movements rivaling Mike Oldfield’s groundbreaking work on “Tubular Bells.”
Next on the itinerary are three shorter pieces, led by “Asturias,” previously known as “Leyenda” or “legend.” Originally written in the early 1890s for piano, Isaak Albéniz’s composition arguably is the quintessential Spanish guitar piece. Andres Segovia began playing it in the 1920s, and the Doors used it to great effect half a century later as the intro to their “Spanish Caravan.”
The third movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s obscure 1967 “Concierto Andaluz for 4 Guitars” follows, with Perlowin using pedal steel solely to cover brass and woodwind parts. The result is his highest guitar quotient yet, a 50-50 blend.
“Spanish Steel’s” final shorter piece actually is Peruvian: “Fantasia Inca,” written by the great South American classical guitarist Julio Martínez Oyanguren and performed here entirely on multitracked pedal steel. Having scoured libraries coast to coast in vain for sheet music, Perlowin created his own arrangement, using a recording by flamenco legend Sabicas as his starting point. Those familiar with Peter Green’s exquisite instrumental “Oh Well (Part 2)” for Fleetwood Mac will be especially pleased.
Last but not least is the 15-minute “Capriccio Espagnol,” written in 1887 by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. A brilliant orchestral showpiece requiring considerable virtuosity on the part of each player, Perlowin is up to the task, making it a mammoth production requiring 109 tracks at one point.