It was gratifying to hear Aaron Grad play a set of Bach’s Two-Part Inventions on an electric guitar, partnered with Robert Jost on acoustic bass, at a recital Thursday at the Mansion at Strathmore. The Inventions sounded fresh and cleanly delivered, though it is a shame Jost didn’t perform his part on electric bass: That might have drawn the arrangement further away from jazz-Bach familiarity and more fully into the rock world. (It’s a shame, too, that Jost offered an amateurish, pitch-challenged rendition of the “Courante” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 on his bass, souring an otherwise well-turned Bach set. )
Grad’s composition, “Coo/Rant,” for acoustic bass solo, put a neat, modern gloss on Bach, and his arrangements of music by rock band Guns N’ Roses — “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Slash Fantasy” — brought out unexpected Bachian resonances. Jost switched to electric bass for the duo’s take on nine short pieces from Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos” piano collection. Bartok’s writing, as rendered on electrified instruments, sounded fascinatingly like a soundtrack to some lost 1960s British-espionage TV show.
The world-premiere performance of Grad’s Strathmore-commissioned work, “The Father Book,” was an inventive and notably attractive work that juxtaposed alternately melodic, minimalist and Eastern-tinged solo electric-guitar lines against an atmospheric recorded track of microtonal noodlings on a warped clavichord that Grad’s father had built in his youth. It was a loving tribute to Grad’s father, John, who died at age 50, and to Bach, the father of all modern composers.
Banno is a freelance writer.