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Jazz : Strunz & Farah: Time to Pump Up the Formula

March 28, 1994|DON HECKMAN

Is success beginning to spoil Strunz & Farah? Maybe not quite yet, but the guitarists' performance at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Friday suggested that the perils of formula-style playing may be starting to affect their music.

Which is not to say that these guys can't play. There were times during the evening when they ripped off passages, individually and collectively, that seemed to require eight or nine fingers on each hand. At their best, when the Afro-Caribbean rhythms, flamenco chording and Middle Eastern melodies that are at the heart of their music were really cooking, the duo's performance more than justified the accolades and awards they've been receiving in the last few years.

At other times, however, their tendency to play most tunes at a similar tempo, to articulate their themes in comparably harmonized, duo-guitar melody statements, and to employ the same rapid-fire, triplet-based runs in their solos underscored their need to steer clear of the siren call of commercial repetitiousness.

Fortunately, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, who opened the evening, did precisely that. Playing a program of works that reached from "The Royal Garden Blues" to "The Arkansas Traveler," Fleck demonstrated once again the range and power of the banjo as an expressive musical instrument. The Flecktones remain one of fusion music's most talented ensembles.

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