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Austin Moorhead "Adagio"

When we were approached by Austin asking if we would be interested in reviewing his debut CD, we didn't need a second invitation. After all, Austin was twice a finalist in the prestigious GFA (Guitar Federation of America) awards.

Austin Moorhead pictureAs debuts go, this one's right up there with the some the best playing you'll ever likely to listen to. To give you some perspective on how good this is, a sporting equivalent would be scoring a hat-trick or maiden test century on an international debut. Or, perhaps, more fittingly, hitting the winning home run in a world series decider-after all Austin does herald from the United States!

Attractively packaged in a slim-line card back holder, as many new releases are now, this release should appear to many players and listeners alike. The recording takes its name "Adagio", a piece originally composed for piano by Mozart and transcribed for guitar by Ben Verdery, one of Austin's former mentors. It is however the only non-contemporary piece on this otherwise contempary focused recording. Most of the other 7 works on this fantastic CD are likely to be largely unknown to many listeners, us included here at CGN.

One exception to this is the fiery opener, Sergio Assad’s fiery and virtuosic "Fantasia Carioca". Written in 1994, it is a “celebration of the city of Rio de Janeiro.” Immediately, we we struck by Austin's superb technical facility and musicianship in what is a serious 10 minute long piece, where fast scales, arpeggios abound.

This is followed up by an extremely lyrical and contemplative work by the by French guitarist-composer Denis Mortagne, written in 2007 in memory of the New York underground musical icon, Jeff Buckley who died tragically in 1997. Austin's musicality and ability to bring out the melodic lines in this piece, undoubtedly make it a fitting tribute.

In sharp contrast, Spatula is a lighthearted pastiche with disparate elements of Spanish guitar music, bluegrass, and a Cuban habanera. The piece has been described as having been “scrambled” together in 2000 by New York composer David Mallamud, but far from it in terms of the enjoyment and its "totality". The piece is great, in particular the start, where the listener is fooled for the first minute or so into thinking this is Tarrega's Caprichio Arabe with a slight twist-listen and you'll see why!

After the Mozart Adagio, comes another piece by the Italian composer, Nuccio D’Angelo, again transcribed by Ben Verdery for Austin. Composed in 1984, this is the first of two pieces, Due Canzoni Lidie-an exploration of unusual sonorities and "uses space as a compositional element". Written in the Lydian mode, this piece works amazingly well for guitar and we'd very much look forward to hearing the second of these (possibly on a future recording?)

The release rounds off with Robert Beaser’s Shenandoah. Composed in 1995, this is based on the traditional American folksong by the same name. Fragments of the original melody are heard throughout the piece within rich harmonies and a variety of guitar effects, all of which are played with excellent clarity and musicality by the performer.

So, a quality release, by any standard and one which will undoubtedly whet the appetite of listeners for future recordings. Austin is due/will have performed in the UK by the time you read this, but check our listings just in case, first. Bravo!

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