Strunz & Farah
The rhythmic, lyrical, often passionate music of guitarists Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah makes their new Milestone album Guitarras an unforgettable experience.
Reflecting their respective backgrounds (Latin American/Spanish and Middle Eastern) as well as their penchant for progressive contemporary music, Guitarras is a showcase for the duo’s compositional skills and impeccable instrumental technique.
Strunz, who is best known for his work in the popular late-Seventies band Caldera, wrote or co-wrote most of the material on Guitarras. While their previous Milestone effort, Frontera, was more of a band production, the new LP focuses on the two guitars, with percussion accompaniment.
"We wanted a less cluttered sound,” Strunz explains, "so we got down to basics. The guitar alone can create a feeling of intimacy, and without other instruments to ‘compete’ with it, it has more room to breathe. The percussion doesn’t get in the way, but enhances the natural beauty and richness of the guitar.”
Among the supporting musicians on Guitarras are percussionists Luis Conte and Miguel Cruz; sarod player Ashish Khan (son of Ali Akbar Khan); the great Iranian vocalist Hayadeh; and, from Kuwait, guitarist Omaya al’Ghanim, who co-produced the album with Strunz and Farah.
Before meeting in Los Angeles about five years ago, Costa Rican-born Strunz and Farah, who’s from Iran, had lived, worked, and studied all over the world.
Jorge Strunz’s decision to become a musician was quite a departure from his family’s expectations for him—he comes from a long line of career diplomats. By age 12, however, he was learning to play guitar, primarily from records. "The flamenco guitar players were the people I liked best,” he recalls. "They really impressed me, particularly Paco De Lucia.”
Later, he became involved with the electric guitar, listening to Jimi Hendrix and "some of the more creative rock guitar players of the late Sixties,” as well as jazz players like Pat Martino and George Benson.
"Basically,” says Strunz, "my influences are a conglomeration of the Afro-Cuban rhythm foundation with strong Spanish input from the flamenco players. That’s why I love Middle Eastern music so much—flamenco is really a blend of Moorish/Arabic and Persian influences with the gypsy and European elements in Spain. It has a lot of passion, technique, color, and rhythm, all of which are important to me as a guitarist.”
After traveling extensively through South America, Europe, and the States, Strunz came to Los Angeles in 1973, "looking for good Latin percussionists and an Afro-Cuban pianist. I had it in mind to start a band, which later became Caldera. I’d been looking for a sound, and was lucky enough to find it and record with it.”
Caldera made four albums for Capitol, did two national tours, and worked a lot in California, opening for acts such as Grover Washington, John McLaughlin and Shakti, and the Crusaders.
When Caldera broke up, Jorge found that, like many other people, he was fed up with the fusion movement. "Tons of synthesizers, electric guitars... I felt I had to get back to the acoustic guitar to get to a more timeless sound. From that point of view, I thought two acoustic guitars would be fantastic, so I decided to look for another player who would be a good match for the kind of stuff I wanted to do.”
When Strunz met Ardeshir Farah through mutual friends and heard his playing, "I started to see the possibilities of the sound that could evolve. It wasn’t long before we resolved to organize some music.”
Like Strunz, Ardeshir had taken up the guitar at age 12. "Most of the foreign music I heard growing up was from Latin America and Spain,” he explains. "Iranians are very familiar with that kind of music—we have very good ears for it.”
Farah left Iran in 1969 to study architecture in England, and came to Los Angeles in the mid-Seventies to complete his studies, all the while continuing to play guitar. "Rock and roll mainly,” he says, "but then I started getting interested in fusion, mostly since coming to L.A. That was really when I began to develop my style.”
Ardeshir has been a full-time professional player since ’79, when he finished school. Aside from his work with Strunz, he’s recorded and performed in L.A. with "many of the Persian artists who had to move out of Iran after the revolution. For some reason, almost all of them found their way to Los Angeles, and there’s a thriving music community there.” Both guitarists have also played on record and in concert with violinist L. Subramaniam and the santur virtuoso Manoochehr Sadeghi.
Despite their seemingly disparate backgrounds, Jorge and Ardeshir find that Spain and its music provide a common point of reference. "Spain is the home of the guitar,” notes Jorge, "in terms of the serious style of playing the instrument. Insofar as flamenco uses Middle Eastern and Latin American influences, it was a natural way for us to relate.”
The duo’s first album, Mosaico, was recorded in 1980—well before John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and Paco De Lucia released their Friday Night in San Francisco LP—but did not come out till ’82. In Strunz’s opinion, "the return of many fusion players to the acoustic instrument around that time was an organic thing. We felt that McLaughlin’s getting his record out first, what with his resources, would help open doors for us, and I believe it has.”
Mosaico was released on the small Ganesh label after a number of companies had passed on the record because it was "too exotic, too out of the main-stream” to get airplay.
But Strunz likes to point out that "ours is an L.A. sound, an American music born right here.”
More specifically, it’s "a striking and impossibly on kind of music,” in the words of one critic, "fast as the wind and as pretty as Venus’s ring on a clear morning.”