The 260 seat Boulton Center for the Performing Arts has a big heart for veteran musicians. Last Friday evening, an exuberant whoop went up from the audience when Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah of Strunz & Farah took the stage.
It was a mutually familiar whoop. They weren’t new to the Boulton stage (2012). In fact they’ve touched down on several area stages over the past decades. I had seen Strunz and Farah at previous Long Island venues, once accompanied by gifted violinist Charlie Bisharat at the venerated Huntington IMAC.
Since their 1980 debut Mosaico, these two have in thirty-plus years of marriage forged a genre that blurs the usual distinctions between Flamenco, New Age, Jazz Fusion and World Music. And those characterizations leave unmentioned Middle Eastern and Andean scales that are the chile and cilantro in their arrangements.
The evening began with “Four Winds” from Moods and Visions, and was followed by “White Jasmine” from 2011’s Journey around the Sun.
Strunz and Farah just produced their 20th release, Moods and Visions (Selva). As the affable duo joined their able collaborators around the upstairs table after the show, I wondered aloud about the nylon shred guitarheads among their fans. Farah explained, “We try to strike a balance between speed playing and the lyrical.”
Hear their music for the first time and it’s hard to overlook the mastery of scale- and arpeggio-playing – with speed. But in their best work, Strunz & Farah effect a steady musical tide that ebbs between the lyrical, the tranquil and the virtuosic. Their music has rousing endings, but don’t hold your breath for power chords.
Moods and Visions shows how the duo have kept the faith with their musical sensibility. Take the minute-long “Below the Moon.” Musicians known for extended improvisation sometimes don’t know when their songwriting task is done. Not so with these two. Elsewhere the Tarantella-like “Estrella Fugaz” on the 2003 release Rio de Colores is only 39 seconds.
The night’s next song “Vela al Viento” featured a call-and-response phrase between the guitars and flute – naturally, sometimes with very fast runs. Whether responding to rapid fire phrasing or chiming in with 16th note runs, Hardt’s flute chops were clearly up to the task. The concept of ear fatigue (actually, “listener fatique”) may be ill-defined, but it is the enemy of every solo artist. In addition to Hardt’s woodwind work, Majeed Ghorbanian’s varied and phrase-aware percussion kept the sound mix varied and stirred the soup when the improvisation started to recycle.
Read about Inti and the MoonCount among their fans the New York city-based Inti and the Moon (Sun and the Moon), which describes itself as a World music project led by Ecuadoran guitarist-composer Geovanni “Geo” Suquillo. Inti and the Moon have played for thousands in New York subways and train stations, and have worked several Strunz and Farah covers in their repertoire.
The quartet also played “Pasitos” from Fantaseo and others from their extensive catalog. But “Raggle Taggle” from Journey was the night’s standout piece, which my companion dubbed “Klesmer Flamenco.” The live version had even more spunk, swirl and musical puns.
Before an final energetic encore, the audience was treated to a number written by Farah in 6/8 and named “Peacock,” or in Farsi, “tâvus”طاووس . The piece began with atonal instrument strikes, then moved to a dance motif performed in unison, finally giving way to some heavy duty Rhapsody in Blue-style tone-bending by Hardt on clarinet. After a dramatic extended drum solo by Ghorbanian, the tune ended with an emblematic Flamenco flourish.
Sometimes blindingly fast, sometimes simply lilting and uplifting, the Strunz & Farah unisons are often the salsa in their offerings. Check out “Matambu,” also on Rio de Colores, in which the parallel harmonies and unisons form a tasty chorus.
“Heat of the Sun” is a song that introduces itself with a simple two chord riff, but the tune from their 1995 album of the same name builds to a steady burn. While the lack of bass guitar could be lamented, the tight rhythms and hidden surprises were just as tasty live at the Boulton as in the studio version. (Fans of tight rhythm, check out how the verse ends at 3:31 of the studio version).
The marriage of these two gentlemen has produced an impressive body of work. And the evening left little doubt that there’s still plenty of heat in the Strunz & Farah sun.
The Boulton Center’s Executive Director Michele Rizzo-Berg keeps an astonishing lineup coming at you. Next up: Jack Licitra and Kerry Kearney (May 8), Steve Forbert (May 9) and David Bromberg (May 10, reviewed at Ann Reviews).