This may seem like a rather tortuous way to go about things, but I thought this album, Martial Arts & Magic Tricks deserved some proper attention. Personally, I don’t see the point in just saying ‘awesome’ over and over, so I’m going to be hyper-critical. I do have good reason, I think. Firstly, this is the first time I’ve bought an album by a grand-student … allow to explain. Irene Ketikidi was a student of (amongst others) the rather good Martin Goulding who was a student of (amongst others) me. So I was particularly interested in what she did, how she did it, and what she sounded like. I must say on the whole I was impressed.
As is my wont, I will critique from the very highest of standards, not because I want to criticise, but because she deserves it. The bottom line is that no-one ought to come up with that line ‘she’s pretty fucking good … for a girl.’
Irene wears her influences on her sleeve, but she’s not slave to them. She’s pretty assured of what she wants to play and if she’s not quite the finished article, that’s because she’s on an upward curve. She has taste, which a lot of guitarists lack, and part of this has to do with her not quite possessing face-melting technique. Make no mistake, she’s got plenty enough technique, but she’s a step below the real top shred-merchants, and thank heavens for that.
She has a good touch, and plays with an understanding of dynamics; when to lay back, when to cut loose. Her legato and tapping work is very slick, her sweeps work perfectly well. In single-note terms it’s the alternate picking which never quite gets there, each run struggles to make the finishing post, taking some of the grace and fluidity from her playing. Her phrasing is mostly sharp (except when it’s all picked when it can get a little ragged), her tones well thought out and executed. Her rhythm playing is mostly spot on – especially ensemble riffs – though I’d lay off the funky clean guitar (again, it’s a right-hand issue. You can hear it in the classic damped triplet on the up beat, eighth-note on the down beat rhythm. Not quite there). [erratum: funky clean guitar was played by Dave Marks, I’m informed … but that doesn’t make it any better].
But like I said, the highest of standards. She deserves that. I’ve listened to this album a lot recently, especially in the car with the top down speeding through the countryside with it turned way up. I like it. I like it a lot. It rocks.
The truth of the matter is she’s not ‘pretty fucking good … for a girl’, she’s simply pretty fucking good.
The album track-by-track. Some thoughts.
a nice introductory track with sharp rhythmic phrasing, some very nice and subtle whammy pedal work. It’s quite clear where Irene’s influences come from but unlike many she doesn’t let them over-inhabit her playing. If there’s a weakness in this track it’s some of the fast picking passages which don’t quite make it.
Martial Arts & Magic Tricks
Ah, the obligatory funk bit. The tone’s perhaps a little thin for my taste, and the top part a touch on the plunky side, but when the ensemble parts come in, again they’re sharp as you like. Some of her most fluid soloing here, too. The main riff’s quite cool, too. Still the picking, especially the sixteenth-note triplets …
The first of Irene’s tunes I heard, and it’s pretty good. A little Vai-esque, especially in the introductory riff, and the punch-ins aren’t quite there tonally. The rhythm track is possibly the least inspiring on the album, but overall it’s pretty good.
This starts off sounding like a dreadful mistake in a ballad sense but then suddenly morphs into a really powerful melodic riff which is circled neatly by a series of good, solid chords …
Modal Satriani, with a modal Satriani-like melody, that steps up a gear in the ‘chorus’ section, only to fall back into fall back into the modal business again. Good tone, nice phrasing, again she’s very good at resisting temptation … so when she does cut loose you not only notice but remember.
In the machine
A good solid rhythmic riff followed by a clear melody played with a good, fluid sound with a slight nasal honk to it. Some slick passages of sweeping and tapping show her pedigree nicely. Again she eschews the chance to go over the top with the chops, which is refreshing. The solo section at the end has some very tight ensemble work as she shows off her best Yngwie licks, which aren’t bad at all.
The obligatory Hendrix intro to this ballad, complete with bells, followed by a melody which brings Call it Sleep to mind, especially with regards the tone and whammy bar work. Some neat soloing at the end, but I can’t list it as amongst my favourites.
Hmm. Tricksy funk-esque groove with more than a hint of Beck about it which doesn’t quite cut it for me … I’m not sure this is the right sort of rhythm for her, as she doesn’t inhabit the groove as it ought to be inhabited.
Turbocharged semi-boogie that sounds exactly like it should. Pretty much wailing from beginning to end … very good in the car.
Wax on, Wax off
The obligatory guest vehicle. A nice groove for Phil Hilbourne, Justin Sandercoe and David Kilminster to jam over. Much as I love Phil’s playing, Dave’s too (I can’t say I know Justin’s), this all sounded a bit gratuitous to me. Frankly, I’d rather have listened to Irene.