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Laurence Juber - Old Town School, Chicago, 19/5/2012

  by Lisa Torem

published: 4 / 7 / 2012

Laurence Juber - Old Town School, Chicago, 19/5/2012


Lisa Torem attends former Wings' guitarist/composer Laurence Juber's one off guitar workshop in the afternoon, and then watches him play a riveting solo concert later that night at Chicago's Old Town School.

Laurence Juber’s emerald eyes focused intently on my Epiphone fretboard during an intimate guitar workshop at Chicago’s legendary Old Town School of Folk Music. He had just explained, in rather plain language, how to form a certain chord to the reserved group, and, though I tried hard to make sense of the brief explanation, my fingers froze, not once, but several times. Truthfully I hadn’t picked up my guitar in quite a while, but. because of this event, I felt it was finally the right time. In fact, the afternoon would have gone exceedingly well, for me, had my self-conscious subconscious not completely freaked out. But, honestly, how often does one attend a master class with an artist whose career has spanned more than half a century, and whose name has been linked to recordings by Cleo Laine, John Dankworth, Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, Denny Laine and Kermit the Frog? Despite my clumsy platitudes, I gleaned a lot from the two-hour session and the concert later that evening. Laurence Juber is a British songwriter/composer, whose early years were spent developing the demanding skills, which would turn him into a much sought--after session guitarist, the kind who could waltz into a recording studio and pretty much play whatever producer X demanded, and in any conceivable style, be it Django, Ringo or Segovia. He is, to the guitar, what Sir Edmund Hillary was to the pickaxe. During the session, he played familiar riffs; from early Beatles to vintage Wings, while weaving in stories of John Lennon and his banjo, and what it was like working with Paul McCartney, and then explained how many of Sir’s early and later riffs were developed before, during and after Wings. Juber should know; he worked with Wings in the late 1970s, and even earned a Grammy for his instrumental work. His impressive progressions and pronounced examples of instrumental styles, which included bluegrass, jazz, classic rock and vintage rock and roll, were well received by the all-ages participants. One of the younger attendees even contributed a cultural reference after Juber talked about bruising his hands. “I’ve got ‘blisters on my fingers,’” the young man commented, inciting laughter from anyone who remembered John Lennon’s classic lyric from ‘Helter Skelter.’ But, of course, Juber’s calluses are probably much too durable, at this point, to reveal any beginning level discomfort. Later that evening, he appeared on stage, smiling, clearly ready to engage. He sat on a simple, wooden stool, wearing an attractive, purple and black striped shirt, black pants and black, suede shoes. Minutes earlier, as the audience piled in, one man marvelled at the merch table. He had no idea the composer had, to his name, more than 20 CDs (not all were displayed, but the volunteer had mentioned this…) Another audience member was surprised that Juber didn’t play in Chicago more frequently (he actually does), but he was anxious to see him tonight, as he hadn’t seen Juber perform for five years. The consensus was though that Juber had found the perfect venue. And, indeed, the soundman was right on target the entire evening. The first song was the tremendously upbeat ‘Drive My Car’, which was followed by Del Shannon’s ‘My Little Runaway.’ These two, bouncy covers were immediately followed by the original ‘Cobalt Blue’, which involved innumerable pull offs, demonstrated with ease and rapidity. The subdued ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ resolved with a feathery harmonic. Juber’s fascination with great songwriters, in this case, Leiber and Stoller, was portrayed vis a vis their crackling ‘Poison Ivy.’ After pausing to express his American wanderlust, the silver-haired, tanned composer recounted what sounded like a magical trip through Alaska. ‘The White Pass Trail’ was one of the most enigmatic and powerful renditions of the night. Stringing together hauntingly low runs and rambunctious slaps, Juber precisely illustrated the vastness of this stark land. Conversely, his version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, more solemn and melodic, ended on a piercing, mournful note. Another original, ‘Pass The Buck’, featured a delightful hodge podge of textures. ‘All of Me’, an American standard which is traditionally thought of as up-tempo, was played in a more dreamy ethereal style. Than, after a moment of solitude, he seamlessly switched moods. Juber dedicated the next ‘In Your Arms’ to his wife Hope. This lush composition, which belied an understated tension, devoutly illustrated his affection. Carefully responding to his audience, Juber played the Bond favourite, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, before cracking some jokes about Kermit the Frog – he had forged an uncommon bond with Muppet characters while creating the soundtrack for the movie of the same name. One of the most appreciated numbers was another Beatles cover, ‘I am the Walrus’, in which he turned the original on its backside. Juber’s fantastic ear really shone through. He took a song, which is widely recognized for its psychedelic lyrics, and examined intently its musical form. ‘Mosaic’, another transcendental original, showed off Juber’s extreme command of structure. The award-winning ‘Pink Panther’, rock savvy ‘Live and Let Die’, and the delicate ‘Guitar Noir’ followed. My personal favorite ‘Stolen Glances’, which has a dramatic Spanish guitar richness, was played sublimely. Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ and a distinctive 12 bar blues sandwiched ‘PCH’, Pacific Coast Highway, a hybrid of contrasting tonalities; a buoyant clang of textures. Juber had told us that he’d be playing a long set, rather than taking a break – there had been no opening act, so it was all on his shoulders tonight but he exited as amiably as he had come onstage. After some grateful, but respectful applause – the room definitely contained avid listeners -- he returned to do a few more, including a fiercely contrapuntal, heavily arpeggiated version of ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’, a jazz standard, first published by Harold Arlen, in 1933, which featured a pulse quickening solo and the Chuck Barry classic, ‘Johnny B. Goode’; we had a chance, then, to hear Juber sing and pass the mic to the rest of us. It was an enjoyable night and one in which Juber performed flawlessly; one in which those in attendance reaped the rewards of his unarguable experience and limitless skill.

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Laurence Juber - Old Town School, Chicago, 19/5/2012

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