The evolving jazz musician is one who refuses to rest on past laurels. The examples of Miles Davis and John Coltrane quickly come to mind as stalwarts on a never ending quest for fresh sounds. Even with a handful of releases under his own name and an impressive list of sideman credentials, jazz guitarist Bruce Saunders fits the mold of a musician intent on expanding his comfort zone.
On 8x5, Saunders, with Gibson 335 in hand, explores the potential of his instrument without abandoning its more endearing traditional aspects. Joined by saxophonist Adam Kolker, trombonist Alan Ferber, drummer Mark Ferber and bassist Mike McGuirk, the Berklee College of Music instructor leads his quintet through a rigorous, yet spirited set of his own unique compositions, firmly rooted in progressive mainstream sounds.
Saunders writes well-conceived melodies supported by clever harmony and counterpoint. The interplay between guitar, saxophone and trombone results in sound textures that are engaging and creatively out-of-the-ordinary. The disc's underlying grooves range from samba-inspired ("Two Piers"), contemporary funk ("Squib," "Half Right"), odd-metered ("Half Right") and straight-ahead swing ("Stately").
Saunders' approach to improvisation is highlighted by spontaneity and unpredictability. He solos with technical command on "Two Piers" and "Stately," while exhibiting a soft-edged linear approach on the Pat Metheny-sounding "Keyed In" and the pseudo-bossa "Litany." His adeptness at playing chord-melody style is demonstrated on the somber ballad "Grim."
Much more than a showcase for Saunders' lucid guitar playing, 8x5 negotiates a forward-thinking approach to the guitar's place within the confines of a jazz ensemble. Saunders' vitality is a welcome presence in the often over-hyped, over-crowded world of jazz guitar.
Personnel: Bruce Saunders: guitar; Adam Kolker: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Mark Ferber: drums; Mike McGuirk: bass.