Equally at home whether she’s playing The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun” as part of the “Joan Baez Suite” or the Antonio Vivaldi composition “Concerto in D Major,” celebrated classical guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin has never limited herself to any one particular repertoire, and that’s a lucky thing for music lovers of all tastes. Her eclecticism has produced an awful lot of spectacular music that might never otherwise have seen the light of day, and her latest effort, Guitar Passions, in which she joins with some of her guitar playing buddies in a kind of homage to the instrument, is just one more joyful expression of the woman’s enviable range. It is a recording, she explains in the liner notes, in which “I pay tribute to my guitar heroes, artists that I admire from the classical, rock and jazz worlds … It is our shared passion for the guitar and for musical discovery that brings us together.”
Joining her on various tracks in this tribute to the guitar are Stanley Jordan, Steve Morse, Romero Lubambo, Nancy Wilson, Steve Vai, Rosa Passos, Guadencio Thiago de Mello and Paul Winter. Sometimes in collaboration, sometimes on her own, Isbin offers twelve tracks inspired by South American and Spanish roots, seven of which are premieres. All in all, it is a collection of a dozen pieces, each one a gem.
That said, if one has to pick out favorites, the world premiere of Laurindo Almeida’s arrangement of the absolutely transcendent “Adagio” from what is probably the greatest piece for the classical guitar and certainly the best known, Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” played by Isbin, Lubambo and Morse, stands out. It is a fusion of classical, jazz and a pinch of rock that is indeed a tribute to the great composer.
Isbin’s acclaimed lyricism is on display in the remake of the Heart/Wilson sisters’ “Dreamboat Annie,” with a vocal by Nancy, as well as on the two pieces from “La Catedral,” and in Jorge Cardoso’s soulful guitar setting of “Alphonsina y el Mar.” Andrés Segovia’s transcription of Isaac Albéniz’s “Asturias,” with its flamenco flavors gives her an opportunity to showcase the dynamic power of her playing.
She and Jordan join in a premiere of a two-part guitar setting of “Sonidos de aquel dia,” a solo guitar piece by Quique Sinesi, an Argentinian composer. De Mello’s jaunty uptempo “O Presidente” has a folk quality which she says “evokes the colorful sounds of the rain forest.” She is joined on the track by Paul Winter on soprano sax and de Mello’s organic percussion. Organic percussion refers to instruments de Mello has fashioned out of materials found in the jungle and is also featured on “Carinhoso.” Singer/guitarist Rosa Passos, who does the vocal parts, also wrote the guitar accompaniment. The guitar solos which open and close the song were arranged by Carlos Barbosa-Lima.
Steve Vai improvises on Paraguayan composer Augustin Barrios Mangoré’s “Allegro,” and Romero Lubambo collaborates on adapting and performing Barbosa-Lima’s arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chovendo na Roseira.”
Guitar Passions is an album filled with the work of some of the finest composers and arrangers for the instrument. Sharon Isbin and her friends not only play with skill, they imbue that work with passion and excitement. This is an album that won’t grow old.