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CD review: Live recording captures skill, imaginative takes of Mark Anderson Trio

The record mixes Anderson's unique original material with a surprisingly imaginative group of covers that all have his six-string imprint.

The Mark Anderson Trio
The Mark Anderson Trio plays at Beaner's Central in West Duluth, where they return Friday night for their CD release party. Submitted photo
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Many music listeners have little idea how much more difficult some musical idioms are than others for performers.

Most jazz guitarists worth their salt, for instance, can do a very respectable job of playing over a 12-bar blues or through a typical three-chord rock tune.

But put a jazz standard, filled with altered, augmented and diminished chords, intricate harmonic passages, and key changes in front of blues guitar players and watch the beads of sweat start to drip down their foreheads. They know they're in way over their heads.

There is a huge difference in the degree of difficulty.

Duluth's Mark Anderson has just recorded a brand-new disc on which he tackles some of those more difficult assignments. Plus, he does it in trio format with just bass and drums. And he does it live.

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In a trio, there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide when all the melodies, all the harmonies, all the intros, all the outros and all the rides fall on your (or here, on Mark's) shoulders. Doing it live ensures no chance to go back and "fix" it in the mixing process. He shows himself throughout the disc to be an extremely gifted guitarist whose technical facility and creativity are superb.

The record mixes Anderson's unique original material with a surprisingly imaginative group of covers that all have his six-string imprint.

"Creep" brings to mind the wind-swept central plains of Kansas that Pat Metheny conjured on his early trio recordings ("Bright Size Life" and "Watercolors"). Languid is the mood, with lots of open spaces letting Anderson mine the melody on the solo where he mixes octaves and block chords and lets strings ring against each other to great effect.

"So Long You F#*&*ers" may be crudely titled, but it lets the group gallop. This is up-tempo all the way and Anderson's thumb and finger style of right-hand playing is eighth notes in overdrive. Sounding like Wes Montgomery on acid, he bends and double-stops his way through a fiery solo with veteran area bassist John Thorene and drummer Marvin Pomeroy really laying down the blistering groove.

Covers can tell you a lot about an artist's creative ability and their flexibility. Covers force a player out of their "convenience spots" and often expose weaknesses in their ability on their instrument.

Anderson's choice of Blondie's "Call Me" as a vehicle for a jazz guitar trio is unexpected and ingenious. It works perfectly with his style of whammied chords juxtaposed with taut little lines in what sounds very Bill Frisellian.

Similarly, his tranquil take on Lennon/McCartney's "Across the Universe" allows strings to ring in glistening intervals that shimmer and sway. The tune is so beautiful that just stating the theme is almost symphonic.

E.L.O.'s "Showdown" is another unlikely but inspired choice that has that '80s bluesiness, allowing the trio to get just a hair funky.

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My only quibble with the project might be that with veteran (and extremely accomplished) players like Thorene and Pomeroy on the stand, Anderson could have given them a bit more room and spread the spotlight out. It's kind of "all guitar all the time."

Nevertheless, Anderson is clearly a wonderfully talented guitarist whose non-plectrum approach gives him a clear and unique voice on his instrument. His instrumental command places him in an elite group of the very finest guitarists in the area.

The Duluth CD release party is Friday night and both it and this new disc are well worth your time.

John Ziegler has worked in the music industry for 36 years as a radio host, interviewer, record producer and professional musician.

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