COURTESY TANNER PHOTOGRAPHY
Earl Klugh returns to Hawaii for the first time in more than 10 years to play at Turtle Bay.
Earl Klugh's latest album showcases how far he's come since his 1976 debut
Jazz guitarist Earl Klugh had to get back to the basics to renew his approach to music. Back to recording after a six-year hiatus, he released his solo "Naked Guitar," a Grammy Award nominee this year in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category. But don't think that his nimble nylon-string guitar playing was "dumbed down" to appease the lowest common denominator of pop's audience. His home-recorded improvisations on a selection of standards showcase how far he's come since his solo debut waaay back in 1976.
"Guitars Under the Stars 2006," with local openers Rocky Brown, Mark Tanouye and Friends
» Place: West Lawn, Turtle Bay Resort
» Time: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $35 in advance at Honolulu Box Office (550-8457 or honoluluboxoffice.com); $40 at the door
» Call: 293-6000 or visit turtlebayresort.com
» Note: No outside food or beverages allowed; low-back chairs only
Speaking by phone from Atlanta, Klugh said he and his longtime backup band are looking forward to returning to Hawaii this weekend for this year's edition of "Guitars Under the Stars" at the North Shore's Turtle Bay Resort. "I'm so excited," the soft-spoken Klugh said. "It's been quite a few years for me. I remember visiting there six or seven times earlier in my career, but it's been at least 10 years since I've been back there."
Having made his reputation with a smooth jazz sound, Klugh has been rethinking and reshaping his music, playing more engaging work that began with "Naked Guitar."
Klugh tried to keep his playing fresh. "I usually did no more than three takes of any given song. If I felt I didn't get it after two or three takes, I would try again later on. I felt that if I did any one song too many times in a row, I was repeating the same ideas." Since he was in no particular rush -- Klugh said he recorded the album over a leisurely four months in his home studio -- the result is nothing but prime Klugh.
And he feels he did a much better job with this solo album, compared to his '76 effort. "This new one is really how I sound when I play -- slower, and not self-conscious of recording. I did the first one in my then-home studio in Michigan and, in looking back, although it turned out all right, it's not my favorite record. It didn't sound how I sound to myself. But I'm real pleased with the way the new album turned out."
Klugh may do a few selections from "Naked Guitar" Saturday night. "I have to gauge the mood of the audience before I do that, although I have been playing a little bit of the solo pieces recently on tour. But it should work out pretty well, playing outdoors in such a great setting."
THE GUITARIST is at an interesting point in his long career. "I'm always thinking of how to integrate new and interesting things into the music," he said. "I would be a poor musician if I didn't invite that concept."
Besides writing new material, he's also looking at new ways to approach older songs. A good example is his reprise of "Angelina," his composition that first appeared on the '76 album and now closes "Naked Guitar."
Klugh admits that his extended hiatus from recording "was brought about due to a bit of burnout. I was basically doing an album a year for 25 years. When my mom passed away at the beginning of the hiatus, even though I continued to tour and travel, my heart wasn't into recording."
He's aiming to be more prolific, with a new release planned for April 2007.
Klugh has the good fortune of a backup band that's been with him at least a decade. "All of the guys are originally from my Detroit home, and we're a pretty tight unit." That includes Al Turner on bass, Ron Otis on drums, Lenny Price on saxophone and, on dueling keyboards, Al Duncan and David Lee, who used to play in George Clinton's Funkadelic band.
Klugh likes to mix it up on his roughly 50 tour dates each year. "I also do some shows with an acoustic trio, and next April I'm doing four nights in Pittsburgh with two other great guitar players, one of them being Bill Frisell."
Klugh is a fan of the independent-minded Frisell. "I thought it would be fun and interesting to play with someone like Bill, who most people wouldn't necessarily think I would play with when they think of me."
After Hawaii, he's heading to Japan, a country he knows well. "I think this is my 21st-22nd time I've been there in my career. It's always so much fun to play there."
He added: "In all the years, I've never had an unattentive Japanese audience, while in the states, there've been times when people couldn't care less what I'm playing. But all that does is make me work more to engage those people."