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September 10th, 2006

a stairway

I attend a Sunday school where we read a book by a pop theologian literalist who reaches an awful lot of conjectural metaphoric leaps of faith about the way that Heaven works. I hope that Mr. Aldridge, the author, as well as Neil Young, will remember that we need not worry about intermediate heavens when we can instead glimpse eternal life by hearing Stanley Jordan play.

My wife and I went to see Stanley Jordan at the Granada Theater in Dallas tonight, where a few hundred staunch fans turned out even though this organization called the University of Texas was engaged in an athletic contest (the name of the game, as the old Andy Griffith sketch goes, was football) of particular import to residents of our fair metropolis.

We were there in part to see the opening act, Josh Alan, a spirited novelist-turned-retro-blues-guitarist for whose acoustic guitar work my wife has a special appreciation. I had a wish to see Stanley Jordan, though, for though I own none of his CDs, I know he is one of those "chance of a lifetime" guitarists that one goes to see if one can, as with Leo Kottke or Roy Buchanan or Bill Nelson.

Josh Alan gave a spirited hour show, emphasizing the guitar heroics which are his best skill, and a sense of humour as he sang "Green Acres" to the tune of "Purple Haze" and continually held his acoustic to the monitor to generate feedback appropriate to Monterey Pop, Woodstock, or virtually any bad hair day for Pete Townsend.

Stanley Jordan proved to be a revelation. His intricate, free-jazz melodic style, played "among the frets" of the electric guitar, proved an intricate weave of melody which recalled for me an era of my 1970s-blessed youth when rock and jazz were not different things, but merely different terms for the same thing, until punk liberated and desecrated some of the finest music ever made.

Mr. Jordan's dense, spirited but always delicate arrangements lead him coursing through melodic variations with a keen improvisational ear, but with an almost classical sense of discipline and timing. He plays ten thousand notes where another guitarist might think ten would do, and yet each of the notes he plays seems more essential than the last. Even the rare missed or mistaken note was composted into the mix, as he would take a "wrong" note and improvise it into a new melodic pattern, bringing the dissonance back into the whole of the song with a mastery I admire.

The second half of his show featured a long arrangement of Eleanor Rigby (available on his myspace page above) which provided all the euphoria that the very best music can provide. His encore with a suprisingly gentle and intricate "Stairway to Heaven" completely engaged the crowd. His soft-spoken stage dignity and his willingness to do multiple encores, coupled with his incredible craft, completely won the entire crowd over. We may have missed the championship game, but we saw the champion himself, a Joe Louis who took off the gloves and liberated India.

I had heard some Stanley Jordan prior to tonight (and my wife and I nodded our heads in unison when his second song was one we knew). Nothing prepared me, though, for how important and fulfilling a showman he would be. Although I love the musicians at CC Mixter, who post intriguing guitar samples to use in remixes, I wish I could have any thirty seconds of tonight's concert in wave file form, with a license to remix it. I might not reach Heaven in my work, but the flight would feel like rapture.

If you live in a city to which Stanley Jordan is coming, I recommend you see him play. I will see him again, if life, breath, and living in a dream permit me the chance once again. This ws easily one of the best three concerts I've ever seen, and I feel happy tonight.