Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Gene Bertoncini and Strings at the Jazz Standard, NYC 3/25/09

Veteran jazz guitarist Gene Bertoncini has been getting a lot of airplay on Jonathan Schwartz’ radio show (Sundays at noon on WNYC), which might explain how rapidly this show sold out. He’s a good fit, and he raises Schwartz’ sometimes ineffably predictable, romantic retro 40s ambience by several notches. Bertoncini is both a throwback and a pioneer, playing his beautifully amped acoustic guitar with a sometimes spiky, sometimes gently flutterly fingerstyle as opposed to using a pick. Although when he picked up his big hollowbody electric for a composition by Dave Brubeck bassist Michael Moore (who was in the audience, along with a lot of other A-list jazz types), he ran effortlessly through a seemingly endless thicket of Wes Montgomery-style octaves. In a particularly noteworthy stroke of originality, Bertoncini’s latest cd Concerti features a string quartet along with a bassist, and the young crew onstage with him clearly appreciated the mentoring of one of the most sought-after players from fifty years ago. While strings and jazz aren’t mutually exclusive – Gil Evans would have had something to say about that – orchestrated jazz is just about as common these days as orchestrated rock and that’s too bad because Bertoncini and the strings gave a clinic in lush yet energetic beauty.


Their lengthy excursions into both the Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn (and Beatles) songbooks brought rewarding results. The highlight was You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Bertoncini playfully starting it with a little Bach, then the strings introducing the main theme. Conductor Mike Patterson’s arrangements were counterintuitive and often fiery, in this instance showcasing both a biting blues solo by the first violinist as well as stark, ambient cello paired off against scraping, practically violent staccato violin and viola. An original, East of the Sun swung through both a warm, casual Bertoncini solo followed immediately by a stark, austere string arrangement that contrasted almost to the point of clashing – but not quite – with the homey procession of major sixth chords underneath.


Bertoncini had spent considerable time with both Buddy Rich and Chet Baker, resulting in the Baker homage For Chet, again setting lyrical, expansive guitar against uneasy washes of strings. The effect recurred again and again throughout the show, yet the ongoing tension and release felt completely natural – reason to tune in on Sunday, or, better yet, get the cd.

April 1, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment