An Evening of Guitar Mastery
Biréli Lagrène, a renowned guitarist, graced the stage at Kings Place Hall One on 22 July 2023, as part of the International Guitar Foundation’s 2023 Guitar Summit. The audience, comprising both guitar enthusiasts and fellow musicians, eagerly anticipated an evening of riveting guitar playing.
Initially, Lagrène’s remark about solo guitar not being his thing raised some eyebrows. However, any skepticism was quickly dispelled as he dove into an impressive array of solo pieces, exhibiting his extraordinary skills and versatility as a guitarist.
A Guitar Prodigy’s Journey
Lagrène’s journey began when he was just a young boy, playing with his family and in various group settings. His first album, “Routes To Django – Live At The Krokodil”, was recorded when he was not quite fourteen years old, and showcased his incredible talent as a prodigy. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with numerous renowned musicians, including Jaco Pastorius and Martin Taylor, and participated in various projects, such as a brief reincarnation of Cream where he stepped into Eric Clapton’s role.
The Performance: A Feast for the Ears
At Kings Place, Lagrène played on a custom-built Fibonacci guitar, accompanied by an amp, but no pedals. The audience was treated to an awe-inspiring display of Lagrène’s range of tone and touch, as well as his mastery of extended techniques. He demonstrated an uncanny ability to create melodies from anything, even progressively down-tuning his low E-string.
Throughout the performance, Lagrène made numerous references to various musical pieces, such as Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” and Tárrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”. Although a setlist was not available, it was evident that Lagrène chose to demonstrate his virtuoso credentials to the guitar-specialist audience.
Reflecting on the Solo Experience
Given that Lagrène released a highly acclaimed solo guitar album, “Solo Suites” (PeeWee!), just over a year ago, one might wonder why he initially expressed reservations about solo performances. A possible explanation lies in the words of French jazz writer Francis Marmande, who wrote an eloquent sleeve note for “Solo Suites”. Marmande described Lagrène’s musical essence as deriving from the communal setting, where playing together with others brought him joy and fulfillment.
That said, Lagrène’s solo performance at Kings Place was nothing short of mesmerizing. Despite the minor quibble of wishing to get lost in just one tune, rather than constantly shifting moods and pieces, his incredible talent shone through, leaving the audience in awe.
Upcoming Events and Links
IGF’s next jazz event will feature Elina Duni and Rob Luft as a duo on 22 October. For those interested in exploring more of Biréli Lagrène’s work, his “Routes to Django” album is also available online.
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