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Guitarist Steve Cardenas has released a new album, Blue Has a Range, on Sunnyside Records.
With a string of groundbreaking releases through the 1970s, beginning with 1976’s Bright Size Life and continuing with 1977’s Watercolors, Pat Metheny almost single-handedly created a new sound and vocabulary for jazz guitar. His influence on generations of six-stringers cannot be underestimated. Metheny opened a door and scores of guitarists walked through, including Steve Cardenas. A remarkably lyrical player with a golden tone and a flowing linear approach, Cardenas is also adept at fingerstyle chordal melodies and plays with uncommon sensitivity, though he isn’t above stomping on a distortion pedal when the mood calls for skronk. He does all of the above on his brilliant new Sunnyside release, Blue Has a Range.
A former member of Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra and the Steve Swallow Quartet, the veteran guitarist, who grew up in Kansas City (just 20 minutes away from Metheny’s birthplace of Lee’s Summit, Missouri) currently plays in Adam Nussbaum’s Leadbelly Project and Jon Cowherd’s quartet and has appeared on six Ben Allison albums, including 2006’s Cowboy Justice, 2009’s Think Free and 2017’s Layers of the City. Allison and Cowherd join Cardenas, along with drumming great Brian Blade, for some interactive conversations on Blue Has a Range, the guitarist’s sixth album as a leader. “I knew I wanted piano on this project,” he said. “And since I’ve played in Jon’s Mercy Project, which Brian also plays in, and I actually guested with Brian’s Fellowship for a week at the Village Vanguard, it became quickly apparently that his would be a really good combination. So I booked a studio and the tunes started pouring out.”
On his first outing with piano, the guitarist finds a sympathetic partner in Cowherd, who complements Cardenas’ lyrical touch with his own elegant approach on the album’s luminous, harmonically shifting opener, “Lost and Found,” which is underscored by Blade’s deep listening-reacting approach on the kit. Cowherd supplies the requisite funk on “Blue Language,” which opens with a solo tour de force of chordal melody playing before sliding into a lazy/funky New Orleans groove that former Crescent City residents Cowherd and Blade positively eat up. The delicate and beautiful “Language of Love” finds Cowherd and Blade both playing in perfectly understated, soulful fashion, then they collectively burn out over a myriad of changes on the uptempo swinger, “Highline.” Shifting to acoustic guitar, Cardenas gets subdued and heartlandy on the tender rubato number, “Fern’s Guitar,” then takes it out with his interactive crew on the edgy group improv, “Signpost Up Ahead.” “Reflector” and “Siquijor” reveal the most Methenyeque influence on the album. The album ends on a tranquil note with the patient title track, which unfolds organically and beautifully like a prayer.
[caption id="attachment_31770" align="alignleft" width="249"] Kenny Wessel[/caption]
Kenny Wessel, guitarist in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time Band for 12 years, is still waving the flag for harmolodics on his fourth album as a leader, Unstrung (NonotesRecords). On this followup to 2013’s excellent Weights and Measures, Wessel once again shows his abundant versatility by tackling provocative grooves and harmolodic themes, interspersed with hauntingly beautiful melodies and affecting ballads, accompanied by saxophonist Lisa Parrott, acoustic bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Russ Meisner. His warm-toned flow, angular lines and harmonically rich chord voicings inform the proceedings as he deftly shifts from persuasive swing factor on the title track to swampy funk on “Lizard Walk” to beguiling waltz on “Celebi,” an entrancing fingerstyle exercise on “On a Good Day…” and an uplifting heartland ode on “In Due Course,” written for his late father. Wessel’s graceful and conversational duet with Parrott’s alto sax on “Lullaby #3,” a piece reminiscent of Ornette’s poignant ballad “Kathelin Gray,” is a delicate delight. The guitarist also interprets two Coleman compositions in the enchanting ballad “When Will I See You Again?,” featuring Parrott on baritone sax, and the more obscure but equally captivating modal exploration, “Storyteller,” which has tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker joining Parrott’s bari sax and Wessel’s guitar in the freewheeling conversation. The Ornette protege closes with a harmolodic reading of “Over the Rainbow” that is both tender and left-of-center. A superb showcase for a talented guitarist who has been flying under the radar for too long.
Tony Davis, the son of renowned trombonist-composer-educator Steve Davis, debuts as a leader with Golden Year on the Positone label. Playing an unaffected arch top guitar with an emphasis on swinging, the 25-year-old native of West Hartford, where he attended the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, and current New York City resident, showcases his considerable chops and harmonic sophistication in the company of pianist David Bryant, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Eric McPherson. Father Steve guests on the uptempo “Braeburn” and a relaxed rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” Included are inventive takes on Jimi Hendrix’s lovely and lyrical “May This Be Love,” the lively Chico Buarque/João Bosco bossa nova, “Sinhá,” and a virtuosic solo reading of the classically influenced “Tua Imagem” by Brazilian guitarist Canhoto da Paraíba. Elsewhere, Davis makes his mark as both player and composer on the affecting ballad “Orange Feathers” and the surging 6/8 vehicle “Lake Sebago,” both featuring vocalist Alina Engibaryan, as well as on the uptempo chopsbusting “Night Ride” and the more aggressive fusion offering, “El Gran Birane,” the lone track here where he dials up a touch of distortion. An auspicious debut by a talent deserving of wider recognition.
Multiple Grammy-winning classic guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin premieres Chris Brubeck’s “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra” on her latest Zoho release, Affinity. A remarkable 16-minute piece composed by the bassist-trombonist son of Dave Brubeck, it features Isbin’s flawless nylon string playing in the company of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, it. Elsewhere on Affinity, Isbin performs pieces by Cuban guitarist-composer Leo Brouwer (“El Decameron Negro”), Venezuelan guitarist-composer Antonio Lauro (“Waltz No. 3 Natalia”) and Chinese avant garde composer Tan Dun (“Seven Desires for Guitar”). This is six-string work of the highest order.