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CD Review: The Coda Duo – “Sonata Andaluz”

The Coda Duo is based in Columbia, South Carolina. Though they just got started in the past year, the duo has put together a busy performing schedule and, of course, recorded a CD: Sonata Andaluz.

The Contents

The album opens with a piece composed for the Coda Duo, Sonata Andaluz by Ralf Bauer-Mörkens. The 3-movement work begins with an allegro, followed by an adagio and a presto. The piece is attractive, and has a relatively simple harmonic language. I was left wanting more: the musical material is very good, but not strong on development.

Vals, also by Bauer-Mörkens, follows Sonata Andaluz. It begins with some tense chords before moving into a pointillistic, block-chord accompaniment with a melody over top. Eventually the piece settles into a beautiful melody and arpeggiated accompaniment. I really enjoyed this piece. It’s well played, with beautiful phrasing and the Coda Duo does an outstanding job of drawing the listeners ear to the most interesting things. The harmonic language is much more tense and interesting than Sonata Andaluz.

A set of four Bach inventions occupy the next space on the CD. Chris and Brett have clear, well executed musical ideas on these piece. Their phrasing is great. That said, the contrapuntal texture does get a bit dense at times (thanks, Bach!), and I feel the duo could have done a better job of drawing the listeners ear to the various points of imitation. Of the four, the last, Invention No. 6, was my favorite — a very charming, well-played piece.

Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 3 follows Bach, and makes for a great change of pace. After a weighty round of Bach, Granados is the perfect follow up. Combined with the Duo’s very romantic conception of the piece and excellent tone color choices, the Granados is one of the highlights of the CD.

Ständchen, a Schubert lied that the duo’s own Chris Jenkins arranged, follows Granados. The texture was dense, and both performers have such thick sounds that the melody doesn’t really pop out. That said, the phrasing and shaping of the melody is very well done, very voice-like.

The duo’s mastery of tonal color comes into play strongly with Debussy’s Clair de Lune. It’s a beautiful piece, and the arrangement is very well done. The use of color and the arrangement make this track sound very orchestral in nature. Debussy himself was an outstanding orchestrator, drawing many wonderful colors and sounds from the various instruments; it’s good to see guitarists taking note of that and imitating it.

The CD closes with two very clearly jazz/rock/blues inspired pieces by B.G. McPike. These are fitting ends to a CD (or to a concert): both are relatively lively and attractive. The Blue Hole includes many typical blues licks and walking bass lines, and was a blast to listen to.

Overall Thoughts

The CD is a great blend of weight pieces and light entertainment. There is enough variety to keep you listening, and enough musicianship to keep you enthralled.

What I like the best about this album and the Coda Duo in general is the two very distinctive voices. So many guitar duo’s get caught up in making tone exactly, making one guitar indistinguishable from the other. Here we have two outstanding guitarists, with two distinct voices. The result: a combination greater than the sum of its parts and a lot of really well done music making.

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