Lawson Rollins


When guitarist Lawson Rollins arrived on the World Music scene, he astonished listeners with his electrifying guitar style and expansive musical vision. His genre-defying sound combined the passionate rhythms of salsa and samba, the free-flowing improvisations of Latin jazz, the deep bass tones of the blues, the gentle lilt of the Bossa Nova, the fiery attack of flamenco, and the soaring melodic flight of classical music. Rollins' debut album, INFINITA, lived up to its name with a far-reaching series of groundbreaking soundscapes. All About Jazz called the album "a rewarding gem...easily one of the year's best." Read the story of the album here. The guitarist was praised for his compositional skill and soulful virtuosity. Guitar Player Magazine wrote, "Rollins seduces in so many ways that it's almost unfair. His classical tone is gorgeous, his technique is impeccable, his subtle genre blending is compelling." Espirito, Rollins' second solo effort, is a suite that extends and expands the vision of INFINITA with thirteen compositions that delve deeply into the roots of World Music.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Lawson developed a love for the Spanish guitar in his mid-teens when he discovered the recordings of classical guitar maestro, Andres Segovia. He put aside what had been his primary instrument since the age of 8 - the drums - and dedicated himself to learning the music of the great Spanish composers that Segovia popularized. Through private study and with encouragement and inspiration from guitar teachers and master class workshops, Lawson quickly developed his own expressive voice on the guitar and honed an uncommonly dexterous classical fingerstyle technique that he exclusively uses to this day.

By his early twenties, Lawson's keen sense of rhythm, knack for composition, and love of improvisation led him away from the classical repertoire and in the direction of the rhythmically enticing Spanish folk guitar styles and the improvisational freedom of Latin jazz and South American music. "While studying the classical guitar obsessively in high school I simultaneously discovered Latin jazz through some of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's playful Latin-infused collaborations. Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan led me to bossa nova and Miles Davis's performance of the "Concierto de Aranjuez" opened my eyes to Spanish-tinged improvisation. Duke Ellington's world-jazz album "The Far East Suite" was also a revelation." Lawson quickly developed his own unique style, a combination of salsa, Latin jazz, blues, samba, bossa nova, flamenco, and classical music, punctuated by his distinctively sparkling technical proficiency.

After finishing graduate school in Europe, Lawson moved to Washington, D.C. and in 1998 partnered with guitarist Daniel Young to form the genre-busting Latin guitar fusion group Young & Rollins. Shortly after striking up a musical rapport during a chance meeting at a local flamenco guitar shop, the duo began performing on the vibrant local music scene and subsequently released their debut album SALSA FLAMENCA which landed on the Billboard Chart in 2000. Focusing on originality and experimentation, they performed only their own compositions and drew upon an eclectic mixture of salsa, Latin jazz, blues, samba, bossa nova, flamenco, and classical styles, brimming with improvisational flair and the fast-paced interplay between the guitars and the Latin percussion rhythm section. Young & Rollins quickly established themselves on the international music scene through their 3 subsequent studio albums SEVILLA (2001), ESPERANZA (2005), and MOSAIC (2006), and through their widely broadcast televised concerts and extensive live performances as a quintet in venues ranging from the Sydney Opera House to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In addition to landing on the Billboard Chart, their music was included on numerous top-selling compilation albums alongside all the leaders in their genre, including the most recent 2009 release Gypsy Spice: Best of New Flamenco.

In 2007 Lawson moved to San Francisco to pursue his ambitions as a soloist. "I was friends with Shahin Shahida of the Persian-American world music group Shahin & Sepehr and asked him to collaborate with me on an album that would touch on all the music I was interested in. I envisioned a multi-instrumental, kaleidoscopic sound that would feature unlikely musical pairings and give the ensemble of players plenty of freedom."

Lawson and Shahida enlisted Dominic Camardella - a pianist, producer (3rd Force, Ottmar Liebert, Flora Purim) and owner of Santa Barbara Sound Design - and together the trio made Lawson's solo debut INFINITA. It included an impressive cast featuring Azerbaijani kamancheh virtuoso Imamyar Hassanov, Afghani vocalist Humayun Khan, Grammy winning world/jazz violin player Charlie Bisharat from Shadowfax, bassist Randy Tico, Persian percussion master Pejman Hadadi, drummer Dave Bryant, legendary Brazilian singer Flora Purim, and her husband, the iconic percussionist Airto Moreira. The album was released in 2008 to universally rave reviews and placed three singles - the Brazilian flavored "Café Jobim," "In Motion," and the title track - on major jazz and radio airplay charts.

Between the completion of INFINITA and the making of Lawson's upcoming cd ESPIRITO, Lawson recorded two guitar-focused videos that have gone viral on the internet and attracted millions of viewers - "The Fire Cadenza" and "Santa Ana Wind". "The videos were meant to be eye catching and entertaining to watch, but I thought they'd be of interest mostly to fans of highly technical guitar playing," says Lawson. "I never planned to put them on an album; I just wanted to convey the feeling of a certain aspect of my playing." After exceeding 2 million views alone on Youtube, both tracks have been made available for sale as digital-only single downloads and come with a .PDF of guitar tabs for those that want to play along.

Lawson's new album entitled ESPIRITO takes the guitar on a journey from its roots in India to the rhythms of the New World and features many of the musicians that made INFINITA so exhilarating, plus some new faces including the Persian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor and Grammy winning Cuban drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.

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