Side Steel - a CD Review
By Mike Flowerday
Regular readers of these pages may
recall that a couple of years back I showered praise on 'Firebird
Suite', the debut CD album by Los Angeles-based guitarist Michael
Perlowin, who had achieved what few artists manage: he had created
not only a completely original and distinctive work of art, but by
taking a bunch of classical themes leavened with one or two jazz themes,
and centring his arrangements round the unique voice of his pedal
steel guitar, had effectively created a personal musical genre into
And now the man is back, with a totally
different venture for the pedal steel, but once more an absorbing,
innovative and rewarding suite of music, invested with considerable
intelligence and a quite "different" take on what music-making
is all about. On this occasion Michael has turned his attention to
Leonard Bernstein's 'West Side Story' music, including not only the
popular songs from the show, but also Bernstein's Symphonic Dances.
Perlowin carefully analysed the score for the Broadway show, the film
music, the operatic version, and several previous guitar-based interpretations,
and says he learned from them all, but at the end of the day he again
comes up with something entirely personal and fresh.
Perlowin's versatile musicianship
is given full rein over no less than nineteen tracks of Bernstein's
celebrated melodies, during the course of which he effectively deploys
not only pedal and lap steel guitars, but an impressive variety of
electric basses, non-steel guitars, and other string instruments.
My own favourite moments include both 'One Hand One Heart' and 'Maria',
two love themes where the distinctive yearning pitch-shifts work beautifully;
a lovely loping 'America', with the various steel parts conversing,
and two great, swinging jazz-inflected numbers 'Cool', which is just
that, and 'Jump', which certainly does. Some great interplay between
the steel lines and Dave Beyer's drums on these two. But really there
are numerous detailed pleasures on this fine work, which sometimes
reveal themselves more fully only on subsequent hearings.
Although this review is appearing
in a jazz magazine this would not be regarded as a jazz recording.
However, any jazz enthusiast who is attuned to the music of artists like Bela Fleck, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell will
find a lot to enjoy and admire here, and I have no hesitation in recommending
it to any music-lover with functioning ears who wants to hear something that
little bit out of the rut.
Michael Perlowin is presently working
on his third album. His stated aim is "to do something new and
different with each recording", and I wouldn't bet against another
gem emerging in the fullness of time.
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