What’s new in the world of guitars? Can an instrument now so ubiquitous, its many styles so familiar and an endless parade of fine practitioners offer something fresh and exciting? One answer to that is that at its finest, the simple majesty guitar music has no need of unending novelty; and as Chopin expressed it, ‘Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two.’ Enter Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier.
Still, with ten guitars between them, we had the prospect of peerless musicianship extended over instruments each with their own tonal qualities, kinds and numbers of strings (steel and nylon; 6, 7 and 12), fretless, acoustic and electric; and of course, a full range of foot-controlled electronica. But although the instruments enabled some striking harmonies (not least Pete Oxley’s 12-string electric) and unusual melodic lines (Nicolas Meier’s fretless guitars finding the ‘notes between the notes’ for his Turkish-inspired compositions), the fascination was in the music, not the guitars. One of the great pleasures of watching their interplay was to see and hear how seamlessly they shifted between rhythm and lead (to the extent that they were clearly divisible in the first place); and their own obvious delight and pleasure was infectious.
Much of the music was very upbeat, but even at the fastest pace, their lines were always clearly articulated. And it was musicianship to the fore, first and throughout: for all of the electronic gadgetry at their disposal, they not only handled it deftly, but also subtly. Musicians of this calibre have no need to show an audience what their toys can do in empty display. That combination of taste and control underpinned much of the variety that they were able to generate.
Bass player Ralph Mizraki placed a seal the first set with a bass solo of power and warmth, a deep, resonant performance that would not be rushed into rapid-fire display. Drummer Paul Cavaciuti provided excellent support, particularly through the more rhythmically challenging numbers; and his own solos—just one in each set—were worth the wait. Pete and Nicolas seemed to think so, too.
For their final number, we were treated to a Turkish dance tune, which was as spirited and rousing as the kind of blues number that so often occupies that slot.
They weren’t getting away after a performance like that. By the end, it did seem that there is indeed something new—and exciting—in the world of guitar music.
© J. Whitman