If anyone needed a reminder that we have an amazing depth of jazz talent in the Twin Cities, they would find it in the solid new release from the Joel Shapira Quartet, Open Lines. Dispensing classic jazz guitar sound from his Gibson, Joel Shapira has been very busy having also just released his second duet album with vocalist Charmin Michelle, Dawning and Daylight. Although he co-founded and has recorded two great albums with the trio Triplicate, this is Joel's first recording leading a quartet. For his quartet project Joel recruited tenor saxophonist Pete Whitman. Whitman is well known as the composer and bandleader behind the Pete Whitman X-tet (which got a four star review from Downbeat) but here he demonstrates his astounding ability as a soloist. Filling out the quartet are first-call bassist Tom Lewis and drummer Dave Schmalenberger. Taking their set list from instrumental favorites including compositions by jazz greats Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, etc., they show that there is still something original to say.
From the opening chords of "Simone" Joel establishes this set as a jazz guitarist's outing in the vein of Joe Pass or Barney Kessel. With a sound and style that is dense, deliberate and firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, Joel moves from the head to comping in support Whitman's bold opening statement and into his own nuanced solo. Whitman answers with more as Schmalenberger adds the spice with accents that vary in intensity, tone and rhythm.
On Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround", they deliver very hip, satisfyingly swinging blues with all players given space to solo. Their take on Miles Davis' "Nardis" begins with a haunting and delicate guitar solo that hints at Joel's classical guitar mastery before the band joins in on the head, picking up the tempo. Tom Lewis delivers a nuanced bass solo and Whitman, solid as ever, tears it up on tenor. Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" is an upbeat rollicking romp through bebop that shows off Schmalenberger's prowess and then, on Jobim's "How Insensitive," the transformation to bossa nova reveals more of his skills that are quite contrary to the title. "Have You Met Miss Jones" brings up the tempo and gives all the musicians room to stretch out on thier solos, and we are reward with pearls every time.
Bill Evan's ballad, "Time Remembered," reflective and somber, is followed by the upbeat "Invitation." This is one of my favotie tunes on the album. Schmalenberger provides unexpected accents and flourishes while he keeps everything just on the edge - moving the momentum forward without pushing. Everyone solos inventively, Tom's bass breaks from throbbing pedal-point to a swinging walking line in way that releases the tension. After turning up the heat, they cool down as the album finishes with a subdued and soulful rendition of "It Could Happen To You" that opens with beautiful solo guitar work. Highly recommended for those who love jazz guitar.
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