Adele Franghiadi reviews Making Tracks: Paolo Angeli & Derek Gripper

Wed 8 February 2017

Thu 2 Feb 2017

The first night of Making Tracks’ “Derek Gripper and Paolo Angeli” tour was a fantastic event, and lived up to the claim of “Solo Guitars like Never Before”! Paolo Angeli offered a non-stop performance on his prepared guitar (with guitar, cello, and harp strings, foot pedals, and a variety of extensions), whilst Derek Gripper showcased a programme of Kora music arranged for guitar, his own works, and an arrangement of Bach.

It would be difficult to write a review of Paolo Angeli’s performance without affording most of the attention to his amazing instrumental creation. However, he shouldn’t be overlooked as a performer. Evidently an imaginative and creative musician, he was a pleasure to watch. He was nimble with technological changes, arms flying about resetting dials and preparing various extensions. He also sang and whistled along to some pieces, which was a sweet addition. Despite never pausing for rest (as he transitioned each piece into the next), he played with ease and passion, which made for a relaxed, yet awe-inspiring experience.

The guitar itself felt like an additional performer, with the audience watching its every “move”. There were so many sounds emanating from just one instrument, that it was impossible not to examine what part made what noise. I was foolish enough to believe that when Angeli returned to playing the guitar in a more traditional fashion, that he’d finished showcasing the various techniques. However, he wowed the audience yet again when he made the guitar “laugh”, by scraping the bow in circular motions across the various layers of strings.

During the interval, I wondered how Derek Gripper was going to “top” such a tough act to follow, but once he started playing, I soon realised the acts weren’t worth comparing, for all the right reasons. Gripper offered an entirely different experience, but it was equally as enjoyable and captivating as the first half. Gripper showcased a variety of styles, from adapted Kora music, to a Bach Chaconne, interspersed with witty quips and a relaxed yet charming approach to audience engagement. He was conversational and humorous, retuning his guitar as he told us stories about his broken watch, and the musicians who taught him about the various styles he presented.

Again, a musician of immense talent, he explained how the Kora is a harp-like West African instrument played using both thumbs, and two other fingers. However, Gripper was playing a guitar, so he demonstrated how Kora techniques can be reimagined to suit this. He essentially condensed four distinct lines of music, traditionally spread over two hands, into one hand, and it was incredible to watch. His playing was incredibly virtuosic and impressive, yet it also felt unpretentious and honest, which further added to Gripper’s charm. He too sang along to the music, but positioned himself quite a distance from the mic. This gave the effect of the voice being an additional, supporting instrument, which was a beautiful and unique effect.

Whilst both musicians offered entirely different performances, they worked perfectly together, owing to how innovative both halves were. The tour is continuing around the country until the 16th February, so if you can get to any of the upcoming concerts, I thoroughly recommend it!

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