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Phil Manzanera - Live at the Curious Arts Festival CD (album) cover


Phil Manzanera

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4 stars In a world where rock guitarists become legends for flashy and exalted soloing, there is one icon who defies the rule and has been doing so in a career that spans more than 4 decades. His contributions to the Roxy Music sound is well documented, a bit less so for his solo output as well as numerous cameo performances for a wide variety of artists. Phil Manzanera is also good friends with Floyd leader Dave Gilmour, a man who knows a bit about guitar playing and the two have been collaborators for a long time. Phil Manzanera is what I would call a textural master, his rhythm guitar work unparalleled in rock music, as well as infusing vast amounts of subtle little licks into his particular style, perhaps due to his long career as a producer (John Cale, Split Enz, Nina Hagen and a vast array of Latino stars). He also pioneered the processing of his guitar through Eno's synthesizers, perhaps the forerunner of various future MIDI experiments, turning his instrument into anything one can imagine.

His 1964 Cardinal Red Gibson Firebird VII is iconic (as seen on the inner gatefold of Roxy Music's masterful ' For Your Pleasure' album , as well as being idolized on his 2008 solo album 'Firebird VII'. In 2016, he released a live album 'Live at The Curious Arts Festival' with a line-up of mostly young musicians including lead vocalist Sonia Bernardo, whose voice is quite revealing and original. The ten tracks include 're-makes/re-models' of archetypal Roxy Music pieces such as 'More Than This' , 'Take a Chance with Me', 'Love is the Drug' and 'Out of the Blue' , while nailing a Ferry standard 'Lets Stick Together'. Add to that a jazz classic 'Stormy Weather', a Kanye West piece 'No Church in the Wild' that originally featured a sample of his 'filthy' guitar playing and a slew of tracks from his solo albums.

Opener 'High Atlas' is a scorching blast that shows off those rhythmic qualities mentioned earlier, giving the piece a buzzing snarl that is frankly utterly delicious. If one focuses in on the instrumental prowess, the sheer genius of Manzanera's style comes shining through. The robotic '1960 Caracas' from 'The Sound of Blue' album has a soulful adornment that highlights Sonia's amazing scat wailing, a rather dazzling feature. Rolling organ churns and an incandescent guitar blast really make this a savory track that defies genre. Phil is also number 2 all-time Latino guitarist after Carlos Santana, as proven by the remarkably played 'Magdalena', a percussion-laden thriller that could easily have been written by the Chicano master, full of bravado, flair and passion. His solo is a paroxysm of delirium, tortured yet liberating.

The highlight track is undisputedly 'Take a Chance on Me' from the Avalon release, a clanging flick of the wrist affair that exudes so many different emotions, it's hard to not be charmed into submission. Initially way more experimental than the RM version, this almost falls into deep psychedelia, as his sizzling guitar weaves and bobs like a sulfurous missile. When the classic 5 note motif kicks in, the arrangements finds its original theme, though Bernardo's voice has a lovely blas' feel. The instrumental section reveals a stunning workout from keyboardist Joao Mello, a super funky exploration that gives Phil the elevation to blow a mean, grizzled solo to die for. On the other hand 'Love is The Drug' is a Ferry vocal high-point that has failed to be surpassed, though Sonia does a decent job, but a female voice cannot justify the lyrics, sounding out of character in such a steamy club environment but 'you can guess the rest' !

I know nothing of Kanye West (frankly I never heard his music) so I cannot really judge objectively but 'No Church in the Wild' is a mid-temp rocker, with ZZ Top like guitars and a forcefully colorful vocal , swaying to a strong rock beat and quite attractive , I daresay, bordering on brilliant! This was a surprise. A great live standard , 'Let's Stick Together' is a pure Rock 'n Roll tune, with its repeated 'C'Mon, C'Mon' chorus, booming bass from Yaron Stavi, 'boom-boom' drums, a couple of luscious sax solos interweaving with Phil's shaking, trembling and looping guitar romp.

Another perennial crowd favorite 'Out of the Blue' pulls the curtain down on what must have been quite a concert, the bombastic finale amid the parting clouds, shimmering violin and guitar uttering the words: 'would you walk out in style?'. Phil Manzanera just did. Amazing cover art too

4.5 Appletrees

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Posted Wednesday, April 5, 2017 | Review Permalink

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