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Though the seasons and natural world are generally associated with the works of new age artists, versatile composer-guitarist Scott DuBois — a onetime semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition — has made them the inspirational cornerstone of his eclectic two-decade career in jazz. Technically, Summer Water, his latest brilliant and sonically intricate piece of impressionistic musical storytelling (and his first on his own label), is the third release in a series inspired by the four seasons. But as a solo electric-guitar album, it’s quite different in style, tone and emotional intention than his previous moody quartet sets Winter Light and Autumn Wind.
Considering the title of the album, it’s ironic that the 11-track set was inspired by the guitarist’s view of Lake Michigan from his window during the brutal Chicago winter of 2019. The theme relates to his understanding the range of water’s alternately gentle and intensely harsh forces and how he could apply that to a summer seascape. Well versed in orchestral music, DuBois uses his instrument to approximate a lilting and subtle, then suddenly crackling and fiery, symphonic energy via an expansive range of string tones, melodies, harmonies, rhythmic patterns and unbridled improvisations.
While the ebb and flow of the music and his dynamic, often sparkling — as per sunlight on a rushing river or ocean waves — tone can certainly be appreciated without the thematic context, DuBois invests keen observational poetic sensibilities in his approaches to composition and performance. The first five tracks and final five tracks create a powerful contrast between river and sea, e.g., “Into River Fog”/“Into Sea Fog,” “River Otters/Sea Otters,” and “Summer Light on the Rushing River”/“Summer Light on the Billowing Sea.” These fascinating, multi-faceted river and sea journeys meet — or rather crash against each other in dramatic, virtuosic fashion — on the album’s blazing centerpiece “Storm Where the River Meets the Sea.”