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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Guitarist Morall Promises but Doesn't Deliver

August 08, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — When Cesar Morall picks up a guitar, he produces lines that are so fast, his hands blur as he plays and the notes smear as they hit your ears. And when he slows down, he demonstrates a soulful sense of melody that is alluring.

Morall is a thirtysomething native of Argentina who now resides in Malibu. At Randell's, where he appeared Saturday with his quartet, he showed that he has a lot going for him as a player, including material that has a flamenco flavor without being strictly flamenco. But the promise of the various parts doesn't always come together.

Many of Morall's compositions were highly melodic and reached out to warm listeners. The easygoing "Moonlight Guitar," which owes something to Carlos Santana's hit, "Europa," had a sure, compelling theme, as did "Acoustic Waves" and "String of Moments," which was done in a leisurely merengue-like beat that was wonderfully calming. Other tunes, such as "Mediterranean Sundance," were faster, but not overly so, giving the presentation compositional contrast.

Morall, however, has yet to put all his many facets together into a program that can grab, and hold, an audience. Having recently moved to Southern California after stays in Europe and New York, Morall has just started working nightclubs. Randell's was only his second club date, and he came less than ideally prepared.

Though drummer Warren White, bassist Hector Pineda and rhythm guitarist John Gelly played quite well individually, they failed to cohere as a unit. Too often, the pieces sounded like Morall was operating in one world, delivering whirlwind-of-notes solos with brazen authority, while his partners were in another, distant realm.

Part of the problem seemed to be due to the fact that Morall's band was under-rehearsed, and that White, for all his spirit, was a substitute who didn't know all the material. On several occasions, Morall ended tunes suddenly, catching band members and listeners off guard.

Still, "Flamenco Highway," the group's final number of the first set, was a complex item that moved seamlessly between dramatically different sections. And bassist Pineda was a strong presence throughout the program.

Then there were the performance hitches. Morall could never seem to get a handle on the volume of his various guitars: When he played a flamenco-style, open-bodied guitar with a pick-up, he elicited a gleaming, bright sound that was appealing; when he picked up his Les Paul-made, solid-body electric guitar, he inevitably played with too much volume and feedback.

While Morall's tunes each had a pleasing flair, he got stuck in a rut when he began to improvise. The guitarist based his solos around his dazzlingly fast runs, which were delivered with precision and clarity as they worked up and down the sonic spectrum, sometimes creating a throb that was like a cat purring loudly. Then after dashing off one of these bursts, Morall would play a more soothing antidote. Then he'd offer another gush. Then a slower passage, and so on. After a while, the speedy stuff seemed overbearing and one wished for a tune where the guitarist soloed at one pace, and with perhaps more thought.

Finally, Morall didn't seem to understand how to use the microphone for announcements. Facing sideways to the mike instead of speaking directly into it, the guitarist's lengthy, and often interesting, introductions to songs became a blur of muffled words. Funny, no one shouted to him that he couldn't be heard. Maybe no one cared.

That would be too bad. Morall works in a musical context that's part riotously speedy lines a la Al DiMeola (and to some degree, the great flamenco artist Paco de Lucia), and part melodic flamenco fusion a la Ottmar Liebert. It's a genre that needs new blood and Morall, once he gets the kinks out of his playing, could provide that ingestion of freshness.

Cesar Morall will play Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Atlas Bar & Grill, 3760 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 380-8400.

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