Friday – 3 July
by T. Wesley
Guitarissimo is the part of the Montreal Jazz Festival featuring intimate hour-long concerts given by a stack of critically-acclaimed guitarists.
If you’ve never heard of Monte Montgomery, go buy one of his albums now.
Montgomery plays an athletic, pummeling set in which nearly every song has a vocal component, giving the impression that he is a traditional singer-songwriter. He is not.
For one, his playing is so far beyond traditional it can’t be easily described in print. He mixes and blends genres from jazz to country, with hefty dollops of bluegrass and whatever the acoustic version of speed metal is.
Secondly, Montgomery is a natural singer whose voice is equal parts urgent, passionate, heartfelt, and sweet. In short, Montgomery is the kind of performer that makes other players want to sell off their entire guitar collection and pretend they never picked one up in the first place.
His standout tunes in this all-too-short first-ever Canadian set were his original composition 1st and Repair and a cover of the Hall & Oates classic Sara Smile. He also played a version of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing that nearly had the crowd on its feet.
In between songs, Montgomery joked amicably with the crowd, keeping the mood light as he introduced songs. He plays mainly in standard tuning, delving into Drop D tuning for a couple of songs.
The Gear: Montgomery plays a partly-stock 1988 Alvarez DY62C dreadnought. Several years ago, he broke the neck off the guitar and had Alvarez replace it with a 5-piece laminated neck with a reinforced volute so it could stand up to the abuse he deals to it nightly. Alvarez/Yairi has issued a signature model (MMY1), but Montgomery warns that to make it sound right, “you gotta beat it up”. The guitar has the stock electronics in it, with the addition of an extra output activated by a switch. The only modification other than the replacement neck is Sperzel locking tuners, which his aggressive playing style basically require. Montgomery uses a small pedalboard that has only a few pedals on it – BOSS CS-2 compressor, TC Electronic stereo chorus, BOSS reverb, delay, and tremolo pedals, and an Ibanez Tube Screamer. The pedal board also holds his tuner and direct box. Montgomery uses a G7th capo.
Peppino D’Agostino, an Italian virtuoso guitarist, is as serious as Monte Montgomery is amusing.
His set started with a surprise presentation; three people from Godin Guitars presented him with their “Acoustic Guitar of the Year” award, recently received from Acoustic Guitar Magazine for their Peppino D’Agostino Signature model.
D’Agostino plays classical style on a steel-string guitar, with occasional right-hand tapping on the fingerboard. His melodies are fluid and sweet, and his rhythms are both driving and subtle as the song requires.
Standout tunes during his set were written by famed Italian composer Ennio Morricone – the themes from Once Upon a Time in the West and the iconic theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
D’Agostino is a bit of a storyteller, and though his French is very good, it slowed the set considerably as he needed to retune between nearly every song, which spurred yet another story. For instance, we now know how he got the nickname Peppino. It seems that in Italy, naming sons after their grandfather is a closely held tradition, so Peppino and 15 of his cousins are all named Giuseppe. His family called him Pep to tell him apart from the other cousins, then Peppino, and the nickname stuck since childhood. The delays detracted from his music to a certain extent, but the crowd enjoyed the fact that he spoke to them in French, only stumbling on a few words here and there.
In his set closer, D’Agostino got very creative, using a wide gamut of styles and blistering techniques in just a few minutes – including slack-tuning his low E string and using it more as a separate percussion instrument than a pitch-generating part of the guitar.