Andy Jurik is a guitarist and educator from Asheville, North Carolina. His first solo recording is called strive and it collects his arrangements of jazz, classical and contemporary tunes for acoustic guitar. He explains: “I’m passionate about genre-fusion and how the intersection of musical worlds can produce fresh, vibrant and original sounds.” He relates himself to musicians such as Gyan Riley, Francesco Turrisi and Diego Figueiredo, “…who blend seemingly disparate genres with deeply intriguing results.”
This is not Jurik’s first rodeo. He’s a member of two duos: Demeler, which reimagines Carter Family standards and Celtic folk songs, and Duo Cortado, which commissions new works for two guitars. He’s presented doctoral research on classical guitar in jazz fusion and has performed at many universities and festivals. For this album, he recorded at home using Logic Pro X and Neumann microphones, and the sonic result is beautiful and pristine. Mixing and mastering was performed by Oli Whitworth.
Jurik opens the album with Marc Summer’s “Julie-O,” originally composed for cello. Summer is a former member of the Turtle Island Quartet, and like many musicians Jurik admires, he “epitomizes a sensibility of genre distinctions becoming less rigid and more fluid,” which is why he chose this track as the first. This composition does indeed seem to straddle several genres, including classical, jazz and even flamenco. I have not heard the cello original, but Jurik’s playing is so lovely and nuanced that I can’t imagine it sounding any other way. For me his guitar style shows the technical virtuosity of John Williams or Pepe Romero with the resonant touches of Leo Kottke.
“Improvisation No. 15 (Hommage à Edith Piaf)” by French composer Francis Poulenc is more strictly classical. Poulenc was a traditional composer who wrote religious music but also loved French popular music. This track is something of a pocket symphony, complex yet romantic.
Next up is a trio of pieces originally written for piano by Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazarth: “Odeon,” “Eponina” and “Brejeiro.” Jurik has arranged the pieces to start “fast and grooving,” then slower and sentimental, and finally fast and grooving again. The piano roots of “Odeon” are obvious, and Jurik has a fine time bouncing around between the high and low “keys” on his guitar (in fact, he says that he loves this composer’s music partly because of how well it translates from piano to guitar.) While complex, there are also traces of ragtime, though Jurik ascribes this to “choro,” an early form of Brazilian jazz. The slower “Eponina” follows, featuring sweet melodies tinged with nostalgia. The concluding “Brejeiro” is a jaunty tune with a catchy melody.
Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me” is a jazz standard from the musical On The Town. Jurik was finally moved to try his version after hearing beautiful versions by Bill Evans and Taylor Eigsti, and his own recording feels like a jazz-classical hybrid. Bernstein’s original tune is typically sophisticated, and Jurik nicely combines the vocal and piano parts into a single guitar arrangement.
“Chorale” is a complex eight-minute piece originally composed by Nicholas Walker for double bass. Jurik recalls: “I was astounded with what this piece could say with just one instrument. Of course, I had to steal it and arrange it for guitar.” Again, Jurik makes it hard to believe this music was ever meant for anything BUT his guitar, especially with his palm-mutes in the middle section.
The next two tracks are much more familiar to contemporary listeners. “Exit Music (For A Film)” is sourced from Radiohead’s iconic OK Computer album. As Jurik says, it’s “all the melancholy distilled to six strings.” I’m a big fan of that album, and this version worked on me the same way the music for the TV show Westworld often does, where a vaguely familiar theme becomes more recognizable as it progresses. I would never have seen the classical possibilities in this song, especially in what Jurik calls “Thom Yorke’s anguished howling,” but he certainly found and exploited them, even moving into a faster Spanish style toward the end. Unashamedly one of my favorite tracks!
“Blackbird” by Paul McCartney of the Beatles (you knew that, right?) may be the only track here directly inspired by another guitar. This version sounds unfamiliar in spots, perhaps because Jurik “…wanted to push the structure a bit, break the form in a playful fashion.” Jurik has combined both McCartney’s Bach-like guitar chording and his vocal line, and from there has worked out the inherent classical possibilities for his performance. Lovely, but a bit more cerebral than the original!
The final track is called “Strive To Be Happy” and the album title came in part from this composition. “Ivan Trevino finds a beautiful balance between harmony, melody and silence in this piece, all set to a perpetual rhythm. The guitar’s resonance adds an irresistible character.” The rhythm Jurik mentions does indeed add a new and exiting element to this collection, starting us out in a more minimalist mode before moving into circular clouds of gorgeous melodies, building to a breathtaking symphony-like conclusion.
Jurik says that “The purpose (in recording these songs) was to construct something that honors its origins while saying something new.” In this goal he has succeeded admirably, and has delivered a stunning technical and sound achievement as well.
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