The word “summit” in its political sense definitely applied to this brilliant and bizarre gathering of minds and fingers Wednesday night. What we heard were four masters practicing often radically different crafts, who after dazzling the overflow crowd in solo spots tried courageously to find some — any — common ground.
What could Joe Pass, Leo Kottke, Pepe Romero and Paco Pena possibly have in common besides the fact that they play various mutations of the guitar? We found out in the last 15 minutes that classical guitarist Romero and flamenco specialist Pena could comfortably meld together in a languorous Spanish duet — helped by Romero’s being a terrific flamenco player in his own right. A bit more awkward was Pass’ attempt to play be-bop lines over Kottke’s country-flavored blues groove.
The bravest risk of all was saved for last, when Romero played a theme and variations, Pass humorously tried to repress the jazz feeling in his fancy obbligatos, and Pena and Kottke kept a low profile in the back. It was like catching a gathering of foreign leaders at a party without their translators — historic, lots of fun, and not too productive.
Most of the night, though, the four offered concise, often inspired summaries of their own styles, with Romero and Pena taking particular care to explain their music to the fans of their fellow guitarists.
On electric guitar, Pass was in tremendous form, mixing elegant lines, tasty chords and infectious swing in standards like “They Can’t Take That Away From Me ,””‘Round Midnight” and a marvelous shuffling blues workout. Pena, a clear-cut technician with a gentler, less-rhythmically driven attack than many of his colleagues in flamenco, offered a cross-section of probing Andalusian meditations and dances.
Romero, the most excitable performer of the Romero family, concentrated on Spain in a set of music by Albeniz, Tarrega and Romero’s father, Celedonio. Kottke’s highly persuasive, comfortably grooving blend of country, folk and blues on six and 12-string guitars was offset by some goofy, deadpan scraps of autobiography in between tunes.