Last Friday night I was privileged to finally meet a guitar hero of mine, Neil Zaza. Granted, I have interviewed him and spoken with him a number of times and obviously I have been listening to his music for years, but it’s completely another thing to hear the brilliance of a musician live. Neil has a reputation of being one of the world’s finest guitar players and not just because he is a technically proficient player, but because he is an amazing song writer on top of it. Neil has the very rare ability to make his guitar “sing” as if a vocalist was always there and you never miss the vocalist. He is truly one of the most melodic players on the planet, especially in his guitar instrumentalist genre.
Friday night only confirmed what I already knew. Not only did Neil player flawlessly and effortlessly this night, but his songs take you away as the melodies sweep out from his fingers and take flight through the room and astound you that anyone can be so good at playing an instrument and writing music or songs that are so strong that you are literally transported to a soundscape of rich, melodic musings from an un assuming genius that unfortunately, not enough people have heard of. Neil epitomizes what it is to be an instrumental songwriter. I dare you to find one song that isn’t absolutely gorgeous in its composition and melodic content. He is surely up there in the echelons of Vai, Satriana, Timmons and Johnson in his composition, technical and performance skills.
Granted, Douglas Corner isn’t the venue I would have preferred to see Neil in for my first time. The sound check was half a song, the sound system was adequate but not amazing but mostly, the mix was a bit on the poor side. The drums were over powering in the small venue and Neil was a bit lost in the mix sometimes, but that being said, it was still an amazing and brilliant performance that can’t be wiped away but minor issues. Neil captivated from the stage as I sat there and watched audience reaction. One person in particular was literally getting the chills Neil would rip through a fast solo and cap it of with some melodic ending that brought shivers to the fan. I was a bit shocked actually at how well Neil owned the stage and really brought a strong and mesmerizing performance to Douglas Corner considering the small stage, lack of a decent sound check and quite honestly, most guitar instrumentalists put me to sleep while they perform on stage as they stare at their feet and hand but put on no show at all. Neil did not disappoint here. It was a truly awesome performance that Neil should be proud of.
This performance was almost a homecoming in a way even though Neil had never played there before. The place was full of friends and family or “framily” as Neil calls them. They rated his performance with smart phone rating cards, many times garnering a “10” from the locals. Neil was busy before and after the show greeting, sitting and talking with each and every person who came to see him play. He gets it. There was no aura of ego. No “rockstar” persona that acted like an ass. He was gracious, very appreciate of every person who came out and acknowledged it from the stage and in person. Neil Zaza is the real deal.
The one sad thing was the lack of local musicians who always go around complaining about supporting live music. For some reason when a talent like Neil comes to town, which is not often in Nashville, the musicians don’t show up to support let alone, learn anything or be inspired by a brilliant musician. I guess it’s just much easier to sit and complain on Facebook than actually put your money where your mouth is. Luckily, the place was full of Zazaniacs (my made up word) where more than happy to soak it all in and shower Neil with love and praise for his music.
At the end of the show Matthew and Gunnar Nelson of “Nelson” fame came up to perform with Neil. First was Gunner performing “I’m Alright,” a Zaza show piece as well as the National Anthem. Then the brothers played “Love and Affection with Neil on guitar, Matthew on bass, Gunner on drums and country singer Theresa Rose on bgv’s. Unfortunately, the drum microphone was having major issues so some of the harmonies or other vocal parts could not be heard. But it was still very cool none the less.
All in all, I came away with more respect, admiration and inspired by Neil Zaza. He is a very rare, very brilliant and talented musician and songwriter. He is exactly what this genre needs more of and hopefully those reading this review, will take a moment to check him out both on his site and a venue near you.
The opening spot was filled by an Italian artist named Marco Pinna who performed acoustically with his a brand of latin/mediterranean/gypsy jazz that was fun, hip and lively. Marco was joined on stage by Sean O’Bryan Smith on bass, drummer Glenn Williams (both played for Zaza as well,) Lee Shines on percussion and Kyle Natchtigal on acoustic guitar. It was a nice refreshing change to the Nashville norm and this town sorely needs more of this kind of music to be performed live all over. Marco just release a brand new CD named “Amigus” which you can get on his site and I recommend you do.