Possession: Lily Afshar, guitar. Archer Records ARR-31919 (CD; 62:50; $16.98), available from customary outlets or directly from Archer Records at http://www.archerrecords.com/ [inactive 7/08]

Unlike in the “old days” of vinyl, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to record and release CDs. There are literally thousands of individuals and companies doing just this, so it is a wonderful surprise when a new venture stands out above the others. Archer Records, based in Memphis, Tennessee, was founded in 2001, and their first major release, “Possession”, by classical guitarist Lily Afshar (http://www.people.memphis.edu/~lafshar/ [inactive 12/03]) is a superb product in every way.

Afshar is currently head of the University of Memphis guitar program and recipient of numerous international awards. She is a guitarist who combines effortless technique with incredible clarity and interpretive skills. As good as her two previous recordings are, this release rises way above them and should be placed on a list of indispensable guitar recordings. The program on this disc represents eight contemporary composers, several of whose works enjoy here their world premieres. Some reading the last sentence might react by wanting to run out of the room screaming. Fear not! This collection represents not only the best of modern guitar music but is also a shining example of what contemporary music can be.

One of the highlights of this disc is an amazing performance of the fiendishly difficult “Invocation and Dance,” by Joaquin Rodrigo. There are also a few more well-known (at least in guitar circles) works, including a Waltz by Agustin Barrios and several compositions by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. Balancing out the more traditional are two pieces by Dusan Bogdanovic, one of the most talented composers, performers, teachers and scholars of the classical guitar today. As in his “Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for the Golden Flower,” many of his works combine fairly complex Eastern European rhythms and harmonies with traditional forms. There are three lovely, lyrical lullabies by Barbara Kolb and what I feel is the highlight of this disc – “MKG Variations,” by Kamran Ince. This is an adaptation, by the composer, of his original work for unaccompanied cello.

The recorded sound is among the best I’ve ever heard – it is totally natural, as if there were absolutely no barrier between this virtuoso player with a great instrument and the listener. Congratulations to Archer records and Lily Afshar for what is certainly an artistic triumph. We can only hope that the word gets out so that more recordings like this will be produced and become available to the public. Please visit Archer Records’ web site and order this recording. You will find it hard to take out of your CD player once you have heard it.