Phil Sargent's A New Day
is enjoyable for a number of reasons. In addition to shedding light on a highly accomplished guitarist/composer with a singular concept, it manages to avoid the pitfalls of trying to emulate the usual icons in the jazz guitar lexicon. With a modernist bent that encompasses improvisation and intelligent charts, the Boston-based Sargent delivers the goods and then some, along with a few surprises.
Aubrey Johnson's beautiful voice is one pleasant inclusion. Augmented by a more-than-capable rhythm section, her wordless vocals add panache and atmosphere, buoyed by the atmospheric compositions, and act as an effective lead instrument that superbly matches Sargent's exquisite playing. Their unison voices soar in harmony on the title track, a labyrinthine piece that also contains some progressive rock fireworks. Her supple creations are elegant in "Kelita," marked by its picturesque folksy melody, and where bassist Greg Loughman delivers a muscular solo.
With demonstrative technique, Sargent is cognizant of the tradition but thinks outside of the box. A guitarist in the vein of Ben Monder
, with whom he studied, he demonstrates an impressive ability to move between avant-gardism in "Gridlock" and hardcore head-banging distortion in "Powerplay," where he obliterates his axe like a punk rock star.
The amicable "Nobody Nothing" digresses a bit from the other tracks; a fine conclusion, albeit not quite as edged as the rest of the set. But that's a minor quibble. More slashing might have been nice, depending on individual preference, but its absence doesn't, in the least, detract from this fine release.
Personnel: Phil Sargent: guitars; Aubrey Johnson: voice; John Funkhouser: piano (1); Brian Friedland: piano, organ (3); Greg Loughman: bass; Mike Connors: drums.