Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How many hands does Stanley Jordan have?

When: Monday, Oct. 27, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Stanley Jordan, guitars and piano; Charnett Moffett, electric bass; Eddie Barattini, drums

My only Stanley Jordan CD is Cornucopia (1986). Before that, not even vinyl. I’m drawn to this show because Charnett Moffett is on bass, and to me, Moffett is like Zakir Hussein: someone not to miss when he comes to town.

I know a little about Jordan’s signature guitar-playing technique: he taps (not holds and strums or plucks) the strings so he can play two lines (melody and chords) at the same time. But until tonight, I don’t really care.

Because until tonight, I haven’t seen him live.

Two guitar solos to start: “My One and Only Love,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” (“I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail/Yes I would, if I could/I surely would”). I’m hooked and Moffett isn’t even on stage yet. How is it possible Jordan is playing just one guitar? How many hands does he have? Boosted by amps, layered, swirling sounds fill the room.

Moffett and Barattini come through the curtain for “All Blues,” a track from State of Nature, Jordan’s most recent CD and the reason for the current tour. On this tune, Jordan plays guitar and piano simultaneously. It’s not a parlor trick, it’s amazing.

He told Guitar Player magazine: “My original instrument was piano, and when I switched to guitar, I still had this piano thing in me, so I developed the whole two-handed tapping technique in order to play the guitar more like a piano. When I did this album, I decided there was still a part of my music that lives in the piano…. I am thinking of them together like a single instrument. If you were using two hands on the guitar, or two hands on the piano, you would think of what you were doing as playing one instrument.”

Another track from State of Nature, which Jordan introduces as "a celebration of nature"; the Andante from Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21, a.k.a. “Elvira Madigan.” Jordan is solo but sounds like a chamber orchestra. He plays the notes and all the notes around the notes.

More guitar and piano simultaneously; this time Jordan sweeps his right hand up and down the keyboard in spacious glissandos. Then he plays the guitar with his right hand and the piano with his left.

Moffett solos on “Star Spangled Banner” a la Jimi Hendrix. This is something he has played for a while (and recorded), most often (to the best of my knowledge) on his big upright bass. Tonight it’s on electric bass, deep and dark and searing. He weaves in “Amazing Grace” and “Frere Jacques.” “Star Spangled Banner” is always a political tune, so I guess Moffett is saying something by playing “Are you sleeping, Brother John?” this close to the election.

The announced final tune is “A Place in Space,” also from the new CD. It’s music that makes you want to strap yourself down or at least hold onto something. The audience brings Jordan back for two solo encores, “O Holy Night” and “Eleanor Rigby.”

For some artists, an instrument and all its history and mastery is just the beginning, the jumping-off point, the starting block, the launching pad for a whole new thing. What Jordan does with the guitar is beyond imagining, best (like most jazz) experienced live.

Here’s “Eleanor Rigby” from a 2006 concert. More rock-and-roll than tonight's version but a decent video with many views of Jordan’s hands, proof that he has only two after all.

Photo by John Whiting.

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