This is the harp guitar surprise I mentioned in the last blog. While browsing the CD table on our first night at the La Guitarra festival, Frank spotted a new CD of solo 11-string archguitar…we flipped! It then hit me that this was obviously the young Bay Area player that Jim Kline had told me about a few years back, who had ordered an archguitar like Jim’s from Alan Perlman. I remember trading emails with the fellow – Jon Mendle – awhile back when he was just starting to explore his new instrument. I had no idea of his level of interest or talent at the time, though he assured me something would develop.
Turns out that Jon had performed the night before as part of the San Francisco Guitar Quartet. So we made a point of tracking him down the next day. Alan himself was exhibiting at the festival, and said yes, Jon was around, and had brought the instrument down with him (though he didn’t perform on it). The next afternoon, holding up the CD cover at arm’s length as our “facial recognition” aid, we soon spotted him in the audience of the next show. Accosting him during intermission, we introduced ourselves, and he said “Yes, I remember you!” (I refrained from asking, “Yeah, then why didn’t you let me know about your CD when it came out last year?!)
Arranging to meet between concerts later in the day, he kindly took us back to his hotel to check out the new instrument. During our brief outing, we swapped news, stories and music: I played him the just-mixed final of Jim Kline’s piece for the new Christmas album (he loves Jim’s sound and music more than perhaps anyone), and gave him a copy of FBSS, with the new version of Jim’s Alchemist’s Dance. He then played for us his arrangement of Debussy’s Maid with the Flaxen Hair. You can see a YouTube video of it here (plus several others). His instrument is essentially identical to Jim’s 11-string (without the additional treble “sidecar”). He tunes his basses differently than Jim’s “circular re-entrant” tuning, using descending D-C-B-A, then switching up an octave for the last G (the 11th string). Kind of like Bennett Tuning with the high G on the “wrong” side. Seems to work. Tone was similarly soft but gorgeous (rich and complex) like Jim’s instruments and recordings. So was the playing!
Jon is an amazing young player, already with career highlights most of us can only envy: Student of the great Sergio Assad (who produced his CD), debut at Carnegie Hall at age 19, and touring with (opening for ) Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Ouch! And he’s only 25.
We listened to the CD on the way home. Impeccable recording and performance. I hate this kid!
Seriously, Jon’s the real deal, and obviously I’m thrilled that he stuck to his guns and pursued the 11-string arch-guitar as his current passion (you can be sure he got flak and some raised eyebrows from his classical guitar peers).
I have his CD for sale here. He certainly warrants our interest and support.