A Fun Hour with Jazz Guitar Wizard Wolfgang Schalk

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Jazz guitarist Wolfgang Schalk is a Viennese transplant and one of L.A.’s hidden treasures. I immediately liked his new album From Here to There, from the first track to the last, and find him to be a fresh new musical voice. I invited Schalk in to showcase the new CD, plus to throw some “blindfold test” music at him. It didn’t surprise me that we shared a similar love for musical immortals like Django ReinhardtWeather ReportWes Montgomery, and John Coltrane. We were on the same page.

Schalk grew up in a small town near Grasse, part of the Tirol region of Austria. He was first given an accordion, which he didn’t like and was too big for his hands. It was replaced by a smaller melodica, but that didn’t really work either. The guitar was his calling, and Schalk launched into years of classical study and practice. Musical immersion and the wonder of sound propelled him on. And he is just nuts about music.

You can hear the main influences in his playing. Besides Wes Montgomery, there’s the mark of Pat Metheny, Pat Martino, and John Scofield. Schalk, however, doesn’t copy or imitate his influences. He plays with his own particular style and groove. He’s worked with an impressive list of musicians — the late tenor virtuoso Michael Brecker, pianist Dave Kikoski, tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza, pianists Geoffrey KeezerJohn Beasley, and other notables.

Schalk’s new album, recorded at L.A.’s state-of-the-art United Recording Studio (formerly Ocean Way Recording), is audiophile sound at its purest. The sound is open, clear, and uncompressed. The recording includes a cast of terrific L.A.-based musicians — Cuban drummer Carlitos del Puerto, drummer Clarence Penn, and Andy Langham of the Poncho Sanchez group. The band will hold an album release party at Catalina’s Jazz Club on Thursday, November 3 at 8:30 p.m. After that the group heads off on a European tour, with Cuban drummer Jimmy Branly replacing Penn.

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 10/28/16:

  1. Wolfgang Schalk / “Zensibility” / From Here to There / Frame Up Music
  2. Wolfgang Schalk / “Last Night’s Song” / From Here to There / Frame Up Music
  3. Zsofia Boros / “Canción Triste” / En Otra Parte / ECM (1st “blindfold test”)
  4. Wolfgang Schalk / “From Here to There” / From Here to There / Frame Up Music
  5. Karl Ratzer Group / “Dianne” / Fingerprints / Creative Music Productions (2nd “blindfold test”)
  6. Django Reinhardt / “Blues for Ike” / Peche a la Mouche / (3rd “blindfold test”)
  7. Wolfgang Schalk / “Satin Doll”  / From Here to There / Frame Up Music  

We did some classic “blindfold tests” a la down beat magazine, a feature I always enjoyed in that jazz rag. Wolfgang loved the tenderness and touch of Hungarian guitarist Zsofia Boros, but he really wigged out when I played Django’s “Blues for Ike” from his final 1953 album. I was flummoxed by Schalk’s blindfold test for me. I had never heard of Austrian jazz guitarist Karl Ratzer. Oh well, you’re never too old to learn.

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