While his guitar gently weeps

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 March, 1995, 12:00am

LEGEND has it that bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for musical talent, but old Satan himself would have trouble coming up with goods to match the abilities of jazz genius Stanley Jordan.

If any living musician truly deserves fortune and great fame for massive, uncompromised talent, it has to be him. What Jordan achieves with a guitar and his own two hands seems, literally, beyond the realms of normal human ability.

Jordan took to the stage at the Jazz Club on Tuesday night for the first of his week's performances, opening with his version of Ravel's Bolero. In under two minutes he had the audience marvelling at what their eyes and ears were telling them.

Simultaneously playing accompaniment and melody, Jordan's hands weaved like hyperactive spiders up and down the neck of his instrument in a display of fluid playing that made the guitar, truly, an extension of his body.

And if the notion of a lone guitarist playing solo - even one so unusual - seems dull, then it cannot be overstated what a complete audio-visual experience a Stanley Jordan concert is. If his recorded music has a delicate gentility about it, then real blood, sweat and tears go into a live performance.

Jordan's whole body is in motion for much of the time; his head bobs and his torso sways, feet tap or stomp to the rhythm, while his face betrays his utter immersion in his music, whether it be crunched in apparent agony or smiling in sublime enjoyment.

And while playing the roles of two musicians, on many occasions he seemed to be assuming yet a third one, with his exaggerated but sincere mannerisms echoing those of an orchestral conductor.

After Bolero came the beautifully melancholic All the Children - one of Jordan's own compositions - followed by an extended and breathtaking improvisation.

Next up was Eleanor Rigby, one of Jordan's older covers and one with which he obviously feels totally at home. This brought out perhaps the full range of his amazing repertoire of techniques, with notes being slapped, pulled, tapped and even stroked from the strings.

At one stage, with both hands so busy that they couldn't possible cope with any more, I swear he pulled the lowest bass string with his ear (giving new meaning to playing by ear).

The effect of seeing one person coax so much music from a single conventional instrument is quite mesmerising.

This was no more true than at the end of the show, when, after merely saying 'I'm gonna play you some blues', Jordan proceeded to play two guitars at once. Or rather one guitar and one Ztar - a curious keyboard in a guitar shape, with tiny keys in each of the 'frets'. It was held in a special stand so that Jordan could play the guitar around his neck with one hand, and the Ztar - which produced a Hammond organ sound - with the other.

He thus proceeded to play some amazing jazz blues, switching between the instruments with incredible speed.

At slightly over an hour it was all over too fast, but I left happy, safe in the knowledge that seeing Stanley Jordan perform live is the closest I'll come to witnessing magic with my own eyes.

Stanely Jordan, Jazz Club, March 7-12