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  • Jonathan Widran

BENJI KAPLAN, Untold Stories

In a recent interview with Jazz Guitar Today in conjunction with his latest album Untold Stories, veteran acoustic guitarist and composer Benji Kaplan explained how as a young musician trying to find his way, he chose to develop his artistry as a fingerstyle player after he discovered that deep open string harmonies came naturally to him on the nylon string – allowing him to feel “the whole orchestra with my fingers and felt much more directly connected to each note and the sound.”

The other biographical detail essentially to a full appreciation of this exquisitely and intricately played, ultra melodic nine track collection is his status as a musical citizen of the world. Part Cuban via his father, who is also of Russian Jewish descent, he grew up influenced by various types of exotic music and languages – including Yiddish, German, Spanish Hebrew and English. Along the way, as told by Francois Becquart of Music in Belgium, he found a way to combine New York, Central European, Latino and Brazilian cultures in his music, “resulting in a rich blend of sounds and colors.”

Especially in comparison to his 2022 standards album Something Here Inside, Untold Stories feels very personal, unfolding as a unique impressionistic narrative that artfully brings together his enduring passions for neoclassical, jazz and impressionistic music while liberally incorporating an array of colorful Brazilian rhythms – including maracatu, samba, baião, choro, bolero and maxixe canbe. Kaplan uses these to tell tales he says he always wanted to tell, but somehow could not put into words.

Establishing his dreamy, fluid fingerstyle aesthetic with the title track, he takes listeners on an eclectic journey slyly referencing special areas of Brazil (the Northeast and backlands of Minas Gerais) via the plucky, hypnotic run filled “Xaxado em Alegria” and the seductively strummed “Choro de Inconsistencia,” a bit of NYC’s urban bustle (“East Side Story”) and a cheerfully refreshing and soothing escape to “Streams, Hills and Forests.”

Kaplan’s engaging tales also include the thoughtful, meditative gems “Oblivionism” and “Illusion’s Waltz,” a confident and strutting call to “Stride and True” and the fascinating exploratory closer “The Vigilante.” The rich emotional energy of these Untold Stories is amazing and as you listen, you’ll understand just what he was feeling in his younger days when he discovered the vast orchestral possibilities inherent in his nimble fingers.      


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