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Guitartist

William Kanengiser is a lot more than just Ralph Macchio's hands

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Most rock & roll fans are closed-minded jerks. Well, not really, but we're awfully damn picky when it comes to our guitarists. If it ain't plugged in, a solo ain't nothing, is the consensus. Acoustic guitar is for folkies and sad little emo chuds just looking for a kiss. And as far as classical guitar goes, forget it. Sure, we get all tingly in our naughty bits over the flamenco flourishes in Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic," but it's Hendrix. Context makes or breaks guitar for the rock purist, and it's causing so-called "fans" of the guitar to miss out on some brilliant, evocative playing.

Take William Kanengiser, for instance. In addition to being the first guitar of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Kanengiser has also won awards in international competitions for his focused playing and delicate yet forceful sense of phrasing. All of that may sound a little soft and lovely for the rock guitar fan, but Kanengiser also has the singular distinction of outplaying Steve "Guitar" Vai in an old-fashioned cutting contest. Okay, it was just in Walter Hill's minor cinematic masterpiece, Crossroads, and Ralph Macchio was the on-camera guitarist (at least in the full-body shots), but it was Kanengiser's hands doing the actual playing of Mozart's Piano Sonata in A Major that devastated the demonic Vai and freed Willie Brown's soul.

When not blowing away the devil's axeman on film, Kanengiser displays a six-string prowess that should capture the imagination of any self-respecting guitar fan. His most recent album, Classical Cool, ranges from classic selections (duh) to show tunes (his "My Funny Valentine" is particularly engaging) to a tetrad of jazz etudes by composer Matt Dunne, each of them displaying an easy grace and vitality that would, were his guitar plugged in, blow you away. Unencumbered by electricity's burdensome noise, Kanengiser's technique shines through; it's pure guitar, and it's worth experiencing.

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