LINER NOTES FROM POSTCARDS

"As Teja Gerken's colleague at Acoustic Guitar magazine for the past few years, I've had the pleasure of hearing him put scores of guitars through their paces in the office. I've also had the privilege of hosting him in live performance on my radio show on KPFA 94.1 FM. So my appreciation of Postcards is colored both by personal association and short-range familiarity with his remarkable playing. Nonetheless, my ears alone tell me that Teja's second solo CD splendidly carries on the celebrated northern California tradition of acoustic fingerstyle guitar and stands with the best recordings in the genre, geography notwithstanding.

Like such iconic figures of fingerstyle as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Alex de Grassi, and Peppino D'Agostino, Teja was born outside California (in his case, Germany) but found the Golden State fertile soil for cultivating a musical vision that disregards conventional boundaries in the interest of authentic personal expression. His original compositions-as well as the works on loan from five of his San Francisco Bay Area peers and mentors-to various degrees incorporate the song forms of folk music, the improvisational sensibility of jazz, the technical precision and structural rigor of classical music, and the harmonic and rhythmic eccentricities of ethnic idioms from around the globe.

Negotiating the resulting labyrinth puts tremendous demands on a player. Teja is keenly adept at articulating the riffs, patterns, and arpeggios that become the flesh and bone of these pieces, but his command of the instrument ultimately serves the melodies and harmonies that give the music soul. He plays with rhythmic assuredness and power (a hallmark of such predecessors as Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges), while meticulously attending to the intricacies of tone and dynamics.

Most importantly, Teja has obviously investigated each tune-whether coming from his own pen or that of Duck Baker, Steve Baughman, Pat Francis, and Dale Miller- to its core, and he has come to an understanding of the story each wants to tell. His makes the strings chime like bells in all the right places; he judiciously ornaments the melodies with harmonics and bends, as exemplified by "Sapphire Blue"; and occasionally, as on "Subterranean Intelligence" and "Precision & Emergency," he opens reflectively, in the spirit of the alap in Indian ragas, before picking up speed and carrying us away in the flow. As a whole, Postcards is a series of love letters to the sonic flexibility of the acoustic guitar, with Teja directly addressing the wonders of the music that can be played on it."

Derk Richardson

Managing editor, Acoustic Guitar
Music programmer, KPFA 94.1 FM, Berkeley
Columnist, SFgate.com

THE TUNES:

5927 CALIFORNIA STREET
Although the final version bears little resemblance to it, the initial spark for this tune came from a composition by San Francisco-based Irish fiddler Colm ó Riain. 5927 California Street is the home of the Bazaar Café, and this tune is a thanks to all the great guitarists who have come and played the monthly acoustic guitar showcase. I play this piece in DADGAD tuning with a capo at the second fret.

PLANXTY BONGWATER (Steve Baughman)
One of the finest Celtic-style guitarists around, Steve Baughman also has a never-ending supply of great originals. It's also hard to beat the sense of humor he applies to his titles (another contender for this album was Danses des Deux Pomme Frittes). Steve was inspired to write this piece by yet another Bay Area fingerpicker, Joe Miller, so I suppose this version is sort of a musical idea's third pass around. Check out Steve's original version on his CD A Drop of the Pure. Planxty Bongwater is played in DGDGCD tuning, and I use a capo at the second fret (Steve doesn't).

FIRST SMILE
First Smile started out as an exercise for playing in the key of A Minor in DADGAD tuning. I also had the final bass line in mind from the very beginning, so all I had to do was write a tune around these two factors. The smile that inspired the title is that of our godson, Nathan Nepomuk Fitger.

FULL MOON WALTZ (Patrick Francis)
This beautiful waltz was written by Patrick Francis. I first heard him play it in my apartment to a room full of guitarists, none of which felt like following with a tune of their own. I highly recommend checking out Pat's recording of this piece on the album Años Verdes, featuring his guitar and clarinet duo Azulão. Full Moon Waltz is played in Drop-D tuning.

NINE BRIDGES
The B-section of this tune came to me a couple of years ago while watching a video on alternate tunings by British guitarist Martin Simpson. It finally came together several months later after modifying the tuning I used to what Steve Baughman calls "Orkney" tuning. I first started performing the tune on tour in Hungary in May of 2004, and it's titled after the Budapest bridges spanning the Danube. Played in CGDGCD.

SAPPHIRE BLUE
This is for my beautiful wife, Heather. It's titled after her wedding ring, but it could have also been called "spunky red," after the dress she wore the day we said "yes." Played in DADGAD.

SUBTERRANEAN INTELLIGENCE
This is one of the first tunes I wrote after finishing the On My Way CD. I came up with the title after watching a street-vendor trying to peddle multiple-choice intelligence tests on the Mexico City subway. Played in DGDGBbD.

NOE VALLEY SUNDAY (Dale Miller)
Dale Miller wrote this tune in 1979, and it was featured on his Kicking Mule Records release Fingers Don't Fail Me Now. I found it in Dale's Mel Bay book of the same title one afternoon while sitting in my Noe Valley apartment almost 25 years later. I'm sure the neighborhood was a very different place than it is now back when Dale drove his cab around San Francisco, and I decided to update the tune accordingly. Played on a 12-string in B F# B E F# B tuning.

OLD WORLD (Duck Baker)
Duck Baker is one of my all-time favorite guitarists, and I'm honored to have him as a mentor and colleague. I first learned this tune from him during one of our lessons in his Mission district flat (always followed by Mexican food and a visit to Community Thrift), and it's been a staple in my repertoire ever since. Duck plays Old World on a steel-string (check out his recording on Clear Blue Sky), but I've always enjoyed using a nylon-string for this one. Played in Drop-D tuning.

PRECISION & EMERGENCY
This is another tune that I started working on shortly after On My Way was finished. Someone sent me a link to an Italian review of that CD (where did the Italians find it?), and by the time I butchered it with a Google translator, it said that I played with "Precision and Emergency." It also said that I had "The executive technical book of martyrs," and that it was "A duty to buy the CD." Played in DADGAD, capo IV.

DAY OF THE DEAD (Pete Madsen)
Pete and I were introduced by Duck Baker. I've liked this tune ever since I heard it during the first gig we played together at San Francisco's Momi Toby's Revolution Café. I finally worked up my own version, adding a part here, and dropping another part there. Check out Pete playing the tune on his CD The House of Pete. Played in DADFAD.

CITY FOR SALE
I wrote this while the dot-com bubble was still being inflated. How things have changed Played in Standard tuning, capo II.

 

 

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