Tanz is guitarist Tim Sparks’ second album of “Jewish Blues” – a collection of Jewish songs and dances from Yiddish, Sephardic, and Oriental traditions he has translated into acoustic fingerstyle guitar. This album follows on the dancing heels of last year’s Neshamah, which VG‘s review noted as “…a truly stunning album created with vision.” Tanz offers more of a good thing.
To any true believer in the guitar, Sparks needs little introduction. He began playing guitar as a kid in Winston/Salem, North Carolina, picking out melodies by ear on an ancient Stella flat-top. He received his first guitar at age 11, when encephalitis kept him out of school for a year. He taught himself country blues and the gospel tunes his grandma played on piano in a Blue Ridge Mountains church. He later studied classical music with Jesus Silva and Andres Segovia.
These diverse influences prepped Sparks to win the ’93 National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship. His first two albums, ’94′s The Nutcracker and ’96′s Guitar Bazaar, won him praise from luminaries such as Leo Kottke and Bill Frisell. These were followed last year by One String Leads to Another and Neshamah.
On Tanz, Sparks’ well-traveled ’54 Martin 00-17 is joined by the bass of Greg Cohen and world-wise percussion of Cyro Baptista. Together the trio creates a mutli-layered sound that fills the ears.
Among the stellar cuts are Sparks’ transcriptions of three numbers by legendary Klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein, crafting bittersweet dance tunes with a darkly nostalgic sound. Other pieces ride on intricate interweavings of time structures, syncopating the guitar, bass, and drum lines on top of each other.
Sparks has done himself proud yet again. Tanz is an innovative collection of guitar music that is staggering in its creativity. This is what guitar playing is all about.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.