Thursday, June 2, 2005
Guitar aficionados are in for a treat this week. British-born Robin Nolan, one of the top Gypsy jazz guitarists in the world, opens the Peninsula’s latest venue, Monterey Live, in two shows with his Amsterdam-based trio and special guest guitarist Howard Alden.
Nolan’s profile in the US has risen in recent years with the accelerating popularity of Gypsy jazz, a phenomenon that can be seen everywhere from the score of the hit animated film The Triplets of Bellville to the proliferation of festivals dedicated to the Hot Club sound created in the 1930s by Belgian-born Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stephane Grappelli.
Over the years Nolan’s trio, featuring his brother Kevin Nolan on rhythm guitar and Dutch bassist Simon Planting, has gained a coterie of big name fans, including Willie Nelson and George Harrison, who regularly hired the band to perform at parties at his country estate. The musicians first got together in 1991 to work as buskers in Amsterdam, and by the end of the decade the trio was performing at international jazz festivals.
Whereas Nolan got his start on the streets of Amsterdam, Alden first gained attention performing at Disneyland in the 1970s. Since his teenage days playing rhythm banjo in a Dixieland combo on the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, Alden has developed into one of mainstream jazz’s most deft guitarists. While often associated with neo-swing players, such as tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and cornetist Warren Vache, Alden is a harmonically sophisticated musician as influenced by Bill Evans as Charlie Christian. He’s recorded a series of rewarding albums that have often paired him with inspired collaborators. In recent years, Alden has been heard in Northern California mostly on tour with the Newport Festival All-Star Band.
He’s still often associated with Woody Allen’s bittersweet 1999 comedy Sweet and Lowdown. The connection is that Alden supplied the music played by Sean Penn’s character, Emmet Ray, who describes himself as the second-best jazz guitarist in the world. Django is the greatest, Rays says, but when he had the opportunity to meet his hero, he fainted, a reaction that many a jazz fan can sympathize with.
The Robin Nolan Trio with Howard Alden plays Thursday, June 2 at 8pm and Friday, June 3 at 9pm at Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey. $18/advance; $20/at the door. 646-1415.