American guitarist Andy Jurik is a proud eclectic, embracing classical, pop, folk, and jazz traditions, and this album, Strive, is quite a showcase for his incredibly diverse interests. Before I had even heard a note of this superb outing, I was drawn in by the lineup of composers, which includes Ernesto Nazareth (one of my favorites), Francis Poulenc, the eerie art-rock band Radiohead, The Beatles, and Leonard Bernstein, among others.
Let’s start with the less-known “others”: Mark Summer’s compelling “Julie-O” has some of the DNA of steel-string masters such as John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and Windham Hill’s Will Ackerman, but still feels original, and it’s nice to hear those types of ideas played on a nylon-string for a change. Nicholas Walker’s expansive “Chorale,” as the name implies, does have a certain vocal quality to it, and some clear echoes of hymns of earlier times—I always think Bach, but it is probably not that specific an allusion. And it is also a lot more than simple melodic lines and progressions. As it develops, there are a few little detours off the road with imaginative filigrees and momentary tempo changes; not jarring at all, because they work. An intriguing piece, for sure.
And percussionist Ivan Trevino’s album-ending Strive to Be Happy” is another unique work: Originally written as a piece for solo marimba (you can check that out here and compare), it starts and ends with a propulsive rhythmic figure that has a slight Phillip Glass/Steve Reich vibe—more hypnotic on the marimba than the guitar, where it takes on a folkier quality—and then the middle has a variegated, almost improvisational quality to it that I find very appealing.
The album is blessed with three pieces by the Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), whose piano works—which combined his interest in Brazilian folk melodies and rhythms with his love of Chopin and other classical composers—have proven to be nicely transferable to guitar. “Odeon,” which appears here in fine form, is probably Nazareth’s best-known “guitar” piece (having been covered by Berta Rojas, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Marc Teicholz, and others). It appears in sequence on this album with the equally satisfying Eponina and Brejeiro (coincidentally, the two pieces that open Teicholz’s wondrous 2017 album, Celestial: The Music of Ernesto Nazareth).
The Radiohead piece, “Exit Music (For a Film),” first appeared under the credits for movie director Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, and also appeared on the English rock band’s 1997 breakthough album, OK Computer. The moody Radiohead version starts out as a solo acoustic guitar tune before singer Thom Yorke enters with some of his typically angst-y vocals, and then bass and drums and various electronic layers enter the fray. So, Jurik’s solo guitar version marks a serious departure, but in my view a very successful and evocative one.
The other piece I want to single out is Paul McCartney/The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” a favorite of fingerstyle guitarists the world over since the spare original came out on “The White Album” back in 1968. I was, frankly, expecting another pleasant copy of the tune (nothing wrong with that; it’s gorgeous), but what Jurik delivers is considerably more. Instead, he uses the familiar bones of the piece (so to speak) as jumping-off points for some really imaginative extrapolations that genuinely take the song to some new places. A fine album from beginning to end.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.