Michael Coppola

Enter the Hydra

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Connecticut native guitarist Michael Coppola wasn't satisfied to be just a guitar player, albeit it a good one. He began to explore ways of expanding the technical and harmonic boundaries of the stringed instrument. This led him to request master guitar builder Jim DeCava to construct first an eight-string and then the nine-string instrument he plays here -- thus the hydra reference. Combining the techniques learned through classical studies with those from veteran guitar master Sal Salvador, Coppola, with his digital dexterity, gets a deeper, fuller sound from the guitar. It also sounds as if he overdubs, which he doesn't. It sounds as if there are two Johnny Smith's playing. The impact of the additional strings are immediate. The first cut, Coppola's own "Steppin Up," reveals innovative voicing that few other guitar players manage to create with their more limited instruments. He does his own call and response on Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a La Turk," which has a chord structure that brings out the special qualities of Coppola's instrument. "Cherokee" recalls another guitar innovator, Les Paul. Coppola achieves what Paul did with the tune, plus a lot more. The other members of the trio face a stern test of their ability to provide support for this dominating instrument. And they do a credible job. Bowler's bass is in perfect counterfoil to the guitar on such cuts as "Caravan." Rather than just keeping time, Hannah's drums are used to underscore musical points made by the guitar player as on "Night Train." It's important to emphasize that this nine-string guitar is a legitimate instrument, not a gadget or novelty. It extends considerably the capabilities of the guitar and in the hands of Coppola does so quite effectively and entertainingly.

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