New West Guitar Group returns to New London
Guitarist Perry Smith is on the phone, apologizing because he's a few minutes late for an interview. He explains he was conducting business at a bank - which is perhaps not the most dramatic activity imaginable for a musical virtuoso.
On the other hand, given that the appointment was necessary to handle the expanding financial profile of the New West Guitar Group - a jazz/pop trio that features Smith and fellow ax-wizards John Storie and Jeff Stein - the corporate confab was actually good news.
"Yeah, things are going well. I guess we're very fortunate to have some positive stuff happening, and to go to a bank to keep up with it," Smith says, laughing.
Success on a national stage is probably the last thing Smith and Storie expected when, as music students at the University of Southern California a decade ago, they conceptualized a small guitar group to explore the parameters of straight-ahead jazz and see what might happen if it bled into pop, folk and rock arrangements.
Over the course of five albums - the latest of which is "Big City" - the New West Guitar Group has blended intricate but hooky post-bop originals with clever and dazzling arrangements of such tunes as Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."
Of their work, Vintage Guitar magazine wrote, "The group's creativity in not being afraid to stretch boundaries is helping to forge a new area of music that should inspire other guitarists ... " And Bill Milkowski of Downbeat lauded their "shimmering arpeggios, collectively strummed chords ... tight cracking interplay and complementary playing."
Onstage, the NWGG are boyishly casual, perpetually happy and possessed of a collective dry and self-effacing wit. The group performed once before in New London, last December, at a special matinee show at the Telegraph Record Store. Unfortunately, a heavy snow storm hit that afternoon and attendance was minimal. On the positive side, The Day videotaped the performance and posted it on the "Live Lunch Break" series - which subsequently whetted curiosity about the band.
Fortunately, the New West Guitar Group returns to New London Sunday for a performance in the Hygienic Art Park as part of the Serious Fun concert series.
Earlier this week, Smith talked about the band.
On the fact that, when the New West Guitar Group formed, they were completely unaware of an empathetic scene of similar and visionary artists like the California Guitar Trio, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Charlie Hunter, Laurence Jubilo, Tommy Emanuel and Adrian Legg:
"It's almost embarrassing. John and I started the band in 2005 and went through a few guitarists before we found Jeff. But we were committed jazz students and so consumed with the jazz culture that we had no idea there were these artists out there who were already doing similar things and mixing styles and arrangements. We were pretty good about getting ourselves booked, and we'd go to these venues and see show posters for the California Guitar Trio or Charlie Hunter and we figured out, well, there's already an existing market. I guess we didn't think of this first."
On becoming integrated into that musical scene:
"All of the artists we talked about have been so welcoming, and the whole guitar community has been very supportive. We'd have to give the most credit to the California Guitar Trio. What those guys have done as musicians and as a group is remarkable. They went out and developed a style and a standard and paved the way for the rest of us.
"I can't tell you how many times we've been to venues or met presenters, and we're told, 'We really love CGT and they told us we'll love you, too.' Even though what we're doing is different, we owe those guys a lot."
On returning to New London:
(Laughs) "Yes, we did run into a snow storm, and, yes, the only people there were (The Day's Live Lunch Break crew) and (Telegraph Record Store owners) Rich and Daphne (Martin). But we had to come through the area anyway, and we're always happy to play. It's such an excellent record store and we found all sorts of stuff. Then we spent the evening at the Dutch Tavern, and that's an incredible bar. So it was crazy weather, but there was something very special about the experience. And what we saw of New London made us eager to come back - and this time it's probably safe to say there won't be any snow."
On the next NWGG album:
"We actually just started recording in Brooklyn and it's going to be a very different record because we're collaborating with five different jazz singers. I can't say who they are yet, but they're very well known in the jazz community, and I think it's going to be an awesome project.
"You know, we've been focusing on the three of us for so long, and what we can do with our guitars, and we've achieved some success. But now seemed a good time to broaden the sound a bit. And, since each of us have worked with so many great singers on individual projects, the idea of using some of them with the group seemed like a fun idea."
To see the New West Guitar Group's appearance last December on The Day's "Live Lunch Break" concert series, go to theday.com/section/medialivelunch.
IF YOU GO
Who: New West Guitar Group
What: Serious Fun concert series
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Hygienic Art Park, 79 Bank St., New London
How much: admission by donation
For more information: (860) 443-8001, hygienic.org
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