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Larry Tuttle/String Planet

Songs from the Home Planet 2008 CD $15.

Tight, polished, tasteful, impressive - all the things you'd expect from classically trained musicians who have worked together as long as Stickist Larry Tuttle and violist Novi Novog have. But my main impression from first listening of String Planet's latest offering is that this record is really FUN.

So successful is Songs from the Home Planet at engaging this listener, that from the very beginning I lost all sense of hearing instruments and musicians and I found myself caught up in the music.

And what music it is!

Half these twelve tracks are familiar pieces by composers ranging from Sergei Profiev and Edvard Grieg to Lennon and McCartney. The other half are very tuneful Larry Tuttle originals that stand up as memorable equals. String Planet's inventive arrangements are full of surprising turns, dramatic crescendos, and conversational tangents revealing a depth of orchestral understanding that most of us can only dream of. It's entertaining and artfully done with a light-hearted sense of humor and joy.

Instead of using lots of overdubs, as many players would be tempted when recording music of such depth, String Planet focuses instead on what 16 strings and a few percussion instruments make possible live in the hands of three skilled, imaginative and fun loving master players. The sound is so enormous, at times, and so soft and spare at others, that it feels like a private concert with all the natural dynamics and inviting nuances. A more "transparent" studio performance you're not likely to find anytime soon.

You can feel the empathy between Larry and Novi in how they support each other's most delicate passages, and how they spur each other on, especially on an undeniably ambitious piece like the finale from Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals."

Clearly Larry and Novi are having a good time, playing Larry's colorful originals with the same sense of enjoyment as the classical music they clearly revere, but aren't afraid to spice up in their own unique way. My favorite, "The Whizzer" (can't get this tune out of my head), recalls the celebratory, whimsical nature of 1920's jazz. "Pepe the Circus Dog" could just as easily be that Saint-Saens finale, thanks to Larry's strong compositional skills, it's about as "up" as a piece of music can get.

Jo Pusateri's percussive presence is perfect. It's hard to imagine the kind of third member that could join in with such a well-connected duo and not only hang on for the ride but add just the right sparkle and depth at every turn.

Larry's Grand Stick playing is simply brilliant. The difficulty of some of the arrangements is mind-boggling, and they are made even more impressive by the feeling that the only thing he wants us to hear is how great the music is. He covers all registers: precise, driving, imaginative basslines, beautiful counterpoint and harmony, rapid-fire melodies and meaningful solos, all with seeming ease - the mark of a great performer.

But Larry's not the only one covering a lot of ground. Novi Novog is equally as adept at supporting and lead roles, as is Pusateri. How three such talented players can make so much room for each other, while making so much sound is something that would make a great interview. Maybe it's time to pick up the phone...

Maybe I'll just let it be a wonderful mystery and give String Planet another enjoyable spin.

Greg Howard

String Planet 2004 CD $15.

There are various kinds of virtuosity. Perhaps the most common consists of players pushing themselves to the limit of their abilities to execute something fast and furious. More rarely it comes in the form of players who instinctively know what the music requires and have the skills to execute the parts called for in the service of the music. Just like there are restaurants you would visit only once for the experience of being impressed, there are others you always go back to for their comfortable atmosphere and satisfying and excellent fare. Welcome to String Planet.

Grand Stick player and composer Larry Tuttle's newest collaborative project with his longtime partner and violist, Novi, has released an eponymous 13-course meal consisting of one beautifully crafted tune after another. It's a big step for these two former members of The Freeway Philharmonic. Stylistically and orchestrally more diverse than their previous efforts, String Planet is a "serious" record with a playful heart, strong "pop" instrumental convictions, and a couple of vocal tunes thrown in to good effect.

All the compositions are by Larry. And true to form each has a memorable melody, solid supporting bass parts, engaging internal harmonies and counter lines, and wonderfully deep arrangements. Larry's signature Stickup sound is at once clear and growly, with singing high melodies, lush and lovely swelled chords, bouncy and funky bass and muted melody parts, all deftly folded into the mix.

While supplemented by a variety of other instruments, including drums, percussion, guitar, strings and a few supporting synths, the core of the sound is Larry's bright and sparkly Stick, tightly arranged with Novi's throaty viola. The occasional solos from either of them always sound "composed," more like new melodies than unfocused improvisations. These chefs knows how to stay in the kitchen and let us enjoy their handiwork.

For the deconstructionists among us, the production is nicely transparent, with all the parts clearly audible, but adding up to a nice "live" ensemble sound, even when there are extensive overdubs. But it's not always a thickly layered lasagna. These folks know how to leave enough space for the right spice, a delicate high note floating out of the mix or a deep reverberative trailing finish. The record holds up well as a quiet accompaniment, sneaking up on you, or cranked up as the main feature. This is a testament to Larry and Novi's arranging skills and the work of producers Johnny Lee Schell and Tommy Brighton. Everyone involved is clearly focused on the songs, and the occasional surprise interlude or chord shift never detracts from the mood, but deepens the experience as it should. It's deceptively easy to figure out what the ingredients are, not that any of us would be able to concoct such a feast. There's only one String Planet. Bon appetit.

Greg Howard

Through the Gates 1999 CD $15.

The magic is in the compositions. It's the notes themselves and their juxtapositions that create the "effects". Otherwise no effects are used, just the straight Stick string sound with those gorgeous vertical and horizontal note relationships.

This approach fills in the middle ground of musicianship, a fertle ground often neglected by Stick players. Larry engages in subtle reinterpretations of his songs, more in the way a classical musician takes pride in adding a personal style to a well known piece.

Sonic Detour
with Freeway Philharmonic
1995 CD $15.

This Quartet of Stick player Larry Tuttle, violist Novi Novog, guitarist Robert Stanton and "drumcussionist" Scott Jackson delivers an exquisitely crafted disc. The liner notes describe the music as "the improvisation of jazz, the accessibility of pop and rock, and the discipline of classical music". What they don't say is how diverse Larry's stick work is. He emplays his standard tuned ten-string as a complete orchestral voice with high floating chords and octaves, precise punchy bass, and perfectly executed melody lines.

The nine originals are contributed by all of the band members. The three covers, all uniquely arranged, include Copeland's "Hoedown" and The Beatles' "Martha my Dear". All of the tracks were recorded "live" at Sheffield Lab Studio, and the tightness of the band and sound quality is truly impressive.

Road to Joy
with Freeway Philharmonic
1995 CD $15.

Very enjoyable Christmas family listening, with beatifully creative arrangements and novel harmonic perspectives. "Joy" features two Stick solo carols by Larry, and a great variety of richly orchestral string textures. This tightly integrated quartet includes guitar, Stick, viola, and percussion.

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