From six strings, a symphony

Special to The Times

There were plenty of guitar fireworks Saturday night at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Nothing rare about six-string pyrotechnics, of course, except that in this case they were generated by a pair of solo guitarists -- Badi Assad and David Broza -- without benefit of electric instruments, feedback, synths or backup bands.

Both are superb instrumentalists capable of creating an astonishing panoply of sounds, rhythms and sheer drama. But, although they found common ground in an exuberant encore duet, the similarities ended there.

Broza, an icon of Israeli music, has drawn comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Singing in English, Spanish and Hebrew, he accompanied himself with a surge of guitar sounds delivered with the force of an aural tsunami.


His tendency to use powerful, double-time strumming recalled yet another influence -- Richie Havens. And, on the English-language ballad “Somebody Make Me Laugh,” the similarity to James Taylor was close enough -- in sound and phrasing -- to approach impersonation.

More often, Broza was his own man, displaying the elements that have transformed his music into an international phenomenon. He sang selections from his three Spanish albums -- including “Isla Mujeres” and “Ramito de Violetas” -- and concluded with his first hit, “Yihye Tov” (“There Will Be Goodness”). Written on the eve of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s arrival in Israel in 1977 for peace negotiations, it generated responsive singing from a crowd clearly familiar with his music.

Assad, opening the program, revealed her continuing progress as a performer. Always an extraordinary guitarist, she has moved her voice -- and her incredible vocal sounds -- up front in recent years, creating an inimitable musical blend.

The effect of that blend upon covers such as Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s “Sweet Dreams” and Tori Amos’ “Black Dove” was mesmerizing. And her appropriately titled “Improvisation” was a tour de force combining virtuosic guitar playing with human beat box sounds including cheek pops, ululations, chest percussion and outer-limits shrieks. Despite its utterly bizarre nature, it all came together somehow.

And one couldn’t help but think that the extraordinary sounds and imagery of the determinedly solo Assad would suit a setting that reflected the fantastic aspects of her music -- say, with Cirque du Soleil.