Following an Americana-centric 2012, I’m making a more concerted effort this year to feature jazz guitarists on the blog. Luckily, 2013 seems to be starting off as a good year for jazz guitar.
Standards, Old and New by Mimi Fox
The shadow of Joe Pass looms large over jazz guitarists, particularly those who play the instrument in a solo context. Bay area virtuoso Mimi Fox studied for a time with Pass, so it’s no surprise that her latest album of solo instrumentals reflects the master’s influence. That’s not to say the effort is derivative; far from it. Fox is a distinctive and original musician, reflected not only in her technique but her choice of tunes. On Standards, Old and New she covers classic territory with tracks like “Cry Me a River” and “Four on Six.” The former is re-harmonized so thoroughly that it sounds like a whole new song, while the latter manages to capture the momentum and spontaneity of Wes Montgomery at his finest (no small feat in a solo setting). Fox more unconventionally bookends the album with two standards from the folk music real book. Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” are re-imagined as jazz instrumentals, doing the original tunes justice while at the same time opening the melodies to improvisational exploration. A thoughtful album well worth the price of admission.
Venture Inward by David Weiss & Point of Departure
Trumpeter, composer, and arranger David Weiss is a man of many musical projects; the Point of Departure Quintet was formed to revisit lesser-known tunes from the post-bop era of the 1960s (think albums like “Miles Smiles” by the Miles Davis Quintet or “Speak No Evil” by Wayne Shorter). The quintet recorded recorded two live sets at Jazz Standard in New York, released as Snuck In (2010) and Snuck Out (2011). Venture Inward is a studio session recorded in the same period. All but two of the tunes on the studio session appeared on the live albums, and Venture Inward doesn’t necessarily provide any new perspective on the material. However, the fidelity is a little better, allowing the individual instrumentalists to shine through more crisply. This includes guitarist Nir Felder, who admirably juggles rhythmic and harmonic roles more often entrusted to piano players in the 1960s. Felder — a rare Strat player in the archtop world of jazz — is no slouch on leads either, delivering angular lines that evoke the era while still looking forward. Venture Inward is a solid album that should satisfy those who are merely interested in sampling the Point of Departure quintet; those more intrigued by the concept and the source material would do better to start with the two live albums, acquiring the studio set as a listening capstone.