By Jacob Katel
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The economy, the environment, the guitar. Leaders are called to summit meetings to exchange ideas on the highest level. Of course the economy still sucks and the planet's still dying rapidly. The Guitar Summit is the only one free from political flabberjabber, the only one that actually provides something worth listening to.
Improvisational jazz great Joe Pass, classical virtuoso Pepe Romero, felicitous flamenco player Paco Pe*a, and acoustic alchemist Leo Kottke are the four figureheads from the world guitar community representing different styles and approaches when the powermeet visits our town this week.
"It's really the opportunity to demonstrate the guitar," says Kottke. "It explores different regions and it takes on different personalities. Unlike the piano, for instance, the guitar is an instrument that allows a greater ability to hear the music, as well as the person playing the music."
What makes these players each a perfect fourth on this two-legged tour currently crisscrossing the nation? Pure monsters on guitar.
Pass has recorded volumes of studio and live material. Most recently, on Joe Pass Quartet Live at Yoshi's and My Song, Pass shows his interest in the relentless search for interpretation, his reinvention of tunes, and his ability to turn linear movement into brilliant single-note improvisations. To Pass time, he also puts his key signature on various instructional and method books, such as Joe Pass Guitar Style, Jazz Solos, and Chord Melody Solos.
Pepe Romero's pages of recorded music and his dedication to teaching make him another integral part of this summit meeting. A professor of guitar at the University of Southern California, the University of California at San Diego, Southern Methodist University, and the University of San Diego, Romero also teaches annual master classes, boasting several students who've won international guitar competitions.
Pe*a's recordings demonstrate aural proof of his dedication to the instrument, and the 1981 founding of the Centro Flamenco Paco Pe*a in Cordoba, Spain, further reveals his commitment to passing along knowledge to others. The center organizes an annual guitar festival covering many types of music and offers workshops to aspiring players.
Leo Kottke's indelible musical impression can be seen in his contribution to the creation of the "Leo Kottke twelve-string guitar" and the Kottke style introduced at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and his numerous recordings, which began surfacing in the late Sixties. Kottke's first release, 12-String Blues in 1968, is not only a rarity in record stores, but a lifetime away from his present-day CD (due out in February of 1994 and titled Peculiaroso). "Whenever anyone mentions 12-String Blues, I get this funny feeling," Kottke admits, "because it was so long ago." Kottke completed that album in three hours. For his latest project, he spent time on preproduction for many of the tunes and -- unlike his 1991 release Great Big Boy, on which Kottke sang on every track -- the upcoming CD will contain only three vocal offerings.
Four disparate leaders. One type of musical instrument. In a singular setting. This broad palette of artistic talent in collaboration fell into place two years ago, when Kottke strummed some with Pass, Pe*a, and classical guitarist John Williams at an Australian arts festival. They played as duets and trios, then decided to repeat the performances in the United States. With Williams unavailable to tour, Romero steps in and brings his fiery chops to this guitar frenzy.
"The surprise is that four distinct guitarists appeal to one audience," offers Kottke. "To my ear, Paco is one of the more lyrical players in flamenco. He's defined by the kind of attack he has. For Joe, there's really no other name for what he does except improvisation, and whatever I am, I am. We just gotta figure out this new kid, Pepe."
The summit tour begins in Florida, with Miami as the third stop. The foursome's first practice session together will be the soundcheck before the first gig. "With something like this, it's never a good idea to have a formula," Kottke explains. The format will be similar to the encounter in Australia, but Kottke casts doubt on the possibility that all four fretters will team at once. "We all tried to play together with John [Williams] in Australia, and it was a train wreck."
If they were to compile a piece where all of them played together, it might be the show's highlight. After all, they aren't the first to attempt fusing different styles. Back in 1987, rock-trio guitarists Rik Emmett (Triumph) and Alex Lifeson (Rush) joined up with classical specialist Liona Boyd and jazzman Ed Bickert to form the Canadian Guitar Summit, resulting in the song "Beyond Borders."
Even so, a night of improvisation could prove treacherous, what with a virtual mob of guitarists on stage playing at the same time. "We just have to wait and see what comes together organically," says Kottke. "The reason I'm doing this tour is to hear what it's going to sound like."
The Guitar Summit takes place Sunday, November 7, at 8:00 p.m., at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, 372-0925. Admission costs $18 and $22.50.