Global guitar gods to grace Livermore’s Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
If mankind’s progress owes a lot to having opposable thumbs, then acoustic guitar music is equally indebted to our fingers that accompany them.
Putting the entire manual package together to release a fountain of creativity, four eminent adept-fingered guitarists will bring “International Guitar Night” to Livermore’s Bankhead Theater on Feb. 19. Gypsy jazz player Lulo Reinhardt, Brazilian guitarist Chrystian Dozza, slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya from India and contemporary guitarist Luca Stricagnoli from Italy form an impressive four-pack.
Their solo and ensemble performances demonstrate the range and raw power of guitar music. The concert offers a rare opportunity to hear and see artists whose backgrounds and training allow them to reach back through centuries of tradition while pushing the art form ever forward.
Curiosity, it seems, is the engine that drives these pluck- and pick-masters. Individually, they conquer the devilishly difficult polyrhythms of classical Brazilian guitar compositions (Dozza); invent unique, 24-string, hollow-neck slide guitars while also tinkering on simple four-string ukuleles (Bhattacharya). They continue and further distinguish “royal” family lineage from jazz legend Django Reinhardt and violin guru Shnuckenack Reinhardt into the 21at century (Reinhardt). And they shake up finger style guitar practices established by guitarists such as Michael Hedges, Preston Reed and Derek Trucks — the guitar body used as a drum set, right-hand fretting, altered tunings, original adaptations drawing from jazz, soul, rock and more (Stricagnoli).
Together on tour, with their technique and exploratory juices unleashed in ensemble playing, there’s no telling what may happen. Which is exactly the kind of unpredictable, tight and tense corner Stricagnoli prefers.
“I’m finding it so entertaining to explore arrangements of songs that present difficulties,” he says about his preparations for a second, unnamed CD he will record this summer. “When it’s impossible to physically play something because of the distance of hands and you become really stubborn, it leads to constructions of new instruments, like a triple-neck guitar.”
Stricagnoli’s inventiveness — and stubbornness — has him performing on not only a guitar he developed with 13 strings and an inverted fret board but on more than one guitar at a time. He swears by his six- and seven-string Serracini guitars and expands their sonic range while playing the rhythm and melody with his right hand and bass with the left hand. The guitar’s bout (body) allows Stricagnoli to add percussive elements, especially to the rock music adaptations that made him a YouTube sensation.
His “Madness (Muse)” YouTube video released in 2013 under the U.S. label Candyrat Records grabbed 14 million views on Facebook and more than 7 million on YouTube. In Livermore, he will perform two solo works: an arrangement of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” and “Sweet Child of Mine,” an adaptation of the signature Guns and Roses song.
“Thunderstruck is an explosion of energy. It’s like throwing myself out, saying, ‘That’s me!’ For the other, I play on two guitars and explain what I’m doing and why. People, even if they cannot play guitar, they love and wonder at the solutions I found.”
Although he’s unlikely to share his full biography during the show, the philosophies that have informed his career are evident in his blend of new-age, Internet wisdom and an adherence to old-fashioned principles. The sole technology he employs onstage is amplification that reproduces in concert halls the same acoustic sound he hears at home.
“I’m always managing to do anything unplugged. I don’t use loops. I add harmonica, use the guitar for percussion.”
At the same time, he calls YouTube a “weapon that is, how do you say it in English? Sharp on two sides.” The “positive” blade established his career in videos that went viral and caused presenters to call with requests for him to appear.
“I have friends who are not much older, maybe one generation, who say they had to call each town, ask about venues. It was a different, longer process.”
But there is a negative side to increased online presence, he says.
“Some people assign value to music based on the visualization it gets on the Internet. At a concert, people listen to you. Even if you do a slow piece, they get captured and clap so much. On the Internet, it’s like a battle to catch the interest in a really short time. A slow introduction or a video with fade-in and darkness, it might not be good. You have to grab them in two seconds. Wonderful pieces of music may not be watched.”
Fortunately, it’s unlikely that disinterest will happen at the Bankhead. If nothing else, it will be intriguing to watch Stricagnoli in his favorite, tight-squeeze position.
“Lulo can improvise a piece he’s never heard before, Debashish and Chrystian are masters. I had never played with others before this, so I was scared.”
Advice he gained from Debashish — to listen for an “empty spot” in which to make his musical statement — has eased his anxiety. Even so, he expects he’ll push himself into a creative corner or seek to find a breakthrough edge.