News & Reviews: Recordings

Thomas Leeb, “Trickster”

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Percussive fingerstylist releases a masterful new album.

by Teja Gerken
April 15, 2015

Thomas Leeb is one of the most complex fingerstyle guitarists you’ll ever hear. He is a highly percussive player who frequently turns his guitar into a drum, but the depth of his rhythmic understanding (he spent several years studying West African percussion at the California Institute of the Arts) sets him apart from many slap-happy solo guitarists. And as you’ll hear on Trickster, he’s willing to forego pyrotechnics when its time to let a melody shine.

Primarily a solo outing, Trickster will have non-guitarists bopping their heads and wondering where all that sound is coming from, and will have guitar players trying to figure out how he’s creating such a complex sonic space.

Leeb’s strong rhythms, percussive effects, and two-handed tapping pervade the CD, which includes eight originals and four cover tunes. The opening cut, “Sideways,” a highly dynamic tune with a heavy groove and delicate melody, benefits from Leeb’s gorgeous-sounding Lowden signature model guitar. Leeb also tackles some covers that may seem like unlikely solo guitar pieces. Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” played on Leeb’s Lowden baritone, preserves the original’s ominous feel (the YouTube video version, which predated Trickster’s release, has received more than one million plays!), and Bobby McFerrin’s late-’80s hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is an acoustic reggae romp that adds slide guitar (played by Gottfried Gferer) to Leeb’s chordal structure.

Speaking of reggae, Leeb’s arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” is one of Trickster’s standout cuts. Turning a one-chord song into an engaging solo guitar piece is no small feat, but Leeb brilliantly uses bass lines, polyrhythms, and two-handed tapping to support the tune’s familiar melody.

It’s also touching to hear Leeb pay tribute to his friend Eric Roche by covering the late guitarist’s “Deep Deep Down.” Featuring fretless bass virtuoso Steve Lawson, it’s impossible to avoid comparisons to the guitar/bass duets of Michael Hedges and Michael Manring. Perhaps the beautiful ballad—which allows Leeb to demonstrate his fat tone and emotional dynamics—is an homage to more than one inspiration.

Trickster is a great album that would serve well as an introduction to Leeb’s work, and one that shouldn’t be missed if you’re already a fan. Be sure to keep an eye out for Leeb’s worldwide concert dates. thomasleeb.com

 

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