Mike Perlowin: Spanish Steel
Reviewed by Steve Alcott
I read somewhere that the inventors of Western Swing heard Kansas City jazz and the big bands on the radio and wanted to play music like that, but lacking horns, did it with fiddles and guitars because that’s what they had to work with. I hear something akin to that in Mike Perlowin’s Spanish Steel; a musician hears music and is driven to figure out how to play it using the instruments he plays, and makes a record.
In this case, the musician has chosen a very ambitious program of Spanish and Spanish-influenced music originally written for orchestra and for guitar: El Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla, Asturias by Isaak Albeniz, the 3rd movement of Conceirto Andaluz by Joaquin Rodrigo, Fantasia Inca by Julio Martinez Oyanguren, and Capriccio Espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. I’ve played the de Falla and Rimsky-Korsakov pieces and know them very well. The other three pieces are not familiar to me, but I know other works by these composers with the exception of Oyanguren.
On first listening, I found myself asking, “How did he do that?” Mike’s orchestrations are amazing and imaginative, using only pedal and lap steels, acoustic and electric guitars, fretted and fretless basses, mandolin and mandocello, 5 string banjo, sitar, and autoharp. Rimsky-Korsakov was a pioneering and inventive orchestrator; so is Mike, using familiar instruments in unexpected ways. Several times in Capriccio Espagnol, I found myself laughing out loud with surprise and delight at the choice of instrumental color and texture Mike used. After listening a few more times, I was able to stop thinking about “how” and simply concentrate on the music. Regarding the two big orchestral suites, I can say that Mike has captured the essence of both composers intent in both notes and instrumental texture, albeit in a way neither could have ever imagined. In the three smaller pieces, he has done the same on a more intimate scale.
A reviewer’s task is twofold: to try to determine the artist’s intent; and to render an opinion as to how well he achieved that goal. Mike set out to give us his vision of this music. What he has accomplished is to get us to look at this music from a different perspective and hear it with fresh ears. This recording has given me a great deal of pleasure; I can only guess at how many hours it took to put it together.
Mike, it was worth it!
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