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"I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, not in speech, but in little splotches of colour."
— Ezra Pound

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Earl Klugh
Earl Klugh, guitar
Al Duncan, keyboards
Scott Glazer, acoustic bass
Yonrico Scott, drums

In Earl Klugh’s newest release, Naked Guitar, listeners are treated to a rare form of unplugged music that draws its power not from AC, but from bare fingers driving phosphor-bronze and nylon, which in turn set spruce and rosewood into harmonious, sympathetic vibrations. And if those sounds could be translated into Pound’s "splotches of colour," they would surely require a palette that goes beyond the visual spectrum. In like manner, Klugh's music breaches the boundaries of what even seems possible to do on the instrument.

Naked Guitar, Klugh’s KOCH Records debut, is just that—Earl and a guitar, with nothing else coming between that union and the listener. Just pure, unadorned music in all its glory. No overdubs, no tricks, no effects, no net. And through it all, familiar melodies soar above his simultaneously executed, rhythm-infused self-accompaniment. While this exciting new music is at once complex and warm, overwhelming and inviting, memorable and original, it is, in every sense, uniquely Earl Klugh. From the opening passage to the last note, Klugh's long-time fans will know they're in the company of an old friend. Even those hearing Earl's music for the first time will find in it a peculiar quality of familiarity. And that's not surprising. Considering a career that spans 30 years and as many albums, his immense influence on the landscape of "smooth jazz" has been filtered through legion imitators. Yet the best anyone has ever mustered is a mere hinting of the real thing.

Earl Klugh's inimitable musical voice is among those true originals that can be counted on one hand. "For me," he says, "it has always been my greatest joy to explore and create my own unique thing." Klugh credits one-time mentor and band mate George Benson with encouraging him in that direction. While still a teenager, he was touring with Benson's band, and still finding his musical footing. Klugh remembers well Benson's advice. “He said to me, ‘Earl, this is what you do; just do it. You've got your own spin on things. Don’t worry about what other people are doing; just keep moving forward.’ ”

That “spin” as Benson noted, has, to date, generated 13 Grammy nods, record sales in the multi-millions, innumerable hours of airplay, and what has amounted to numerous world tours. But there was, of course, a beginning—the defining moment of which occurred in January, 1967.

On a cold evening in Detroit, a 13-year young Earl Klugh sat down with his mother to watch the Perry Como Show. Como's special guest that night was none other than Chet Atkins. Earl was enraptured by the performance, never having witnessed such a display of musical mastery. “Chet's playing opened up a whole other world,” he remembers. “I had never heard the guitar being played like that. And the experience changed my life; it marked my destiny.”

Little had Earl imagined then that he would someday share the stage with Atkins, let alone find himself in his studio, recording with the legendary figure, himself. (Klugh guested on several of Atkins’ albums, and Chet reciprocated by joining Klugh on his 1978 Magic in Your Eyes.)

That seminal inspiration melded with other sounds of the day, notably those of Burt Bacharach, the Beatles, and Sergio Mendez, and further shaped Klugh's burgeoning musicality. Says Klugh, “I grew up a huge fan of great songwriting—from Brazilian music to the Beatles—and it always seemed natural to bring all those influences into the style that I developed as a guitarist." But perhaps more important was the inescapable influence of his hometown Motown. In those days, the infamous Funk Brothers, after laying down tracks all day for the likes of Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, could be found at Baker's Keyboard Lounge, blowing out some serious jazz. And at least one night a week, the teenaged Klugh could be found in the audience. Escorted by his mother or chaperoned by the club owner, young Earl couldn't get enough of the music. And apparently, neither could the many musicians who passed through get enough of Klugh. Of the many legends he met or sat in with at Baker's, he went on to work professionally with George Benson, Yusef Lateef, George Shearing, and Chic Corea, joining the lineup of the first incarnation of Corea’s Return to Forever. In 1976, with such heady credentials under his belt, Klugh was signed as a solo artist to Blue Note Records, a stint that included the release of his aptly titled Dream Come True.

A continuous string of trend-setting releases would follow, with Klugh garnering particular accolades for his three collaborations with keyboardist Bob James. Their Grammy-winning One on One (1979) was a veritable watershed in contemporary jazz, still cited for its astonishing combination of progressive daring and popular accessibility—hallmarks that continue to describe Klugh's projects, including his latest.

Naked Guitar marks a return to the studio after a six-year hiatus. But the intervening years have been anything but fallow. Dedicating himself to a form of music called “live performance,” Klugh has been busy delighting audiences the world over, from South America to South Africa. Further, in 2003, he was invited to take part in Moscow's Parliament Jazz Festival. In January, 2005, he joined fellow contemporary jazz legends George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Al Jarreau, and Ravi Coltrane on a special American Goodwill tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department as part of an HIV awareness and Tsunami relief effort, bringing Klugh's music to India for the first time. And over the course of the past two years, Klugh has been instrumental in the return of jazz to one of the legendary swing era venues, Colorado Springs' Broadmoor Hotel, where he plays host to the Weekend of Jazz at the Broadmoor, and bringing with him the likes of Joe Sample, Bob James, Chris Botti, and other greats.


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