Sometimes a recording can be academically impressive, filled with strong intention and all the ingredients for greatness, yet not quite reach the soul. Such is the case with guitarist Scott Dubois' Soul Note début, Monsoon which, aside from his quintet of the past four years, also features saxophonist David Liebman, who taught Dubois at the Manhattan School of Music. As a writer and a player, Dubois clearly demonstrates many attributes that, with time, should see him develop into a player of consequence, but for now, while Monsoon has plenty to recommend, Dubois lacks the interconnect between head and heart, mind and spirit.
It's difficult to pin down exactly what is missing. Dubois the writer clearly has an impressive command of harmony, rhythmic invention and melodic intrigue. On the opening "Lost Silence" a challenging 11/8 figure provides a backdrop for a plaintive double-horn theme from Liebman and Loren Stillman that echoes a broader world view. "Rain on Rain" begins with Dubois' round-toned electric guitar and Liebman's wooden flute evoking images of India before, once again, a two-horn frontline establishes a haunting theme over rubato musings from Dubois, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Mark Ferber. "She Brought Life" has Dubois and Morgan playing an elliptical theme over which the horns layer a contrapuntal alternative, again with a nod to a more Eastern sensibility.
As a player Dubois has an interesting approach that is made all the more intriguing by his use of classical guitar as his main instrument. He's clearly a distinctive player, with little to be found of the usual guitar influences. There's nary a Hall or Montgomery to be found in his electric playing and, while there are few guitarists, including Ralph Towner, who make a case for the classical guitar as a strong jazz instrument, Dubois manages to avoid those trappings as well. And, for a young player, he has completely skipped the generation of Abercrombies, Scofields and Frisells. The result is a personal style that incorporates little of the more expected jazz tradition and, instead, looks to ethnic and contemporary classical music as its inspiration.
But as imaginative as Dubois isand his quintet are equally inventive, with Liebman his usual expressionistic, albeit somewhat more subdued, selfthe compositions feel more like exercise than catharsis. There are clearly compelling momentsLiebman's tenor solo on the impressionistic "End" is filled with mystery and emotionbut for the most part the recording feels too considered. With the potential for some heated exchanges between the players, nothing ever seems to rise above a slow simmer. And that's a shame, because everyone is clearly capable. Stillman, in particular, who has his own début on Soul Note, is a player worth watching. But at the end of the day clever invention doesn't substitute for emotional depth, and Dubois needs to find a way to connect his formidable skills with his inner core; only then will he truly succeed at creating music that touches the spirit.
Track Listing: Lost Silence; Rain on Rain; She Brought Life; End; Monsoon; Acceptance Suite: I. Peace of Mind; II. Fallen; III. Recapture; Float; Spilled Colors
Personnel: Scott Dubois (electric and acoustic guitars), David Liebman (tenor and soprano saxophones, Indian flute on "Lost Silence," "Rain on Rain," "End," "Float"), Loren Stillman (alto and soprano saxophones), Jason Rigby (tenor and soprano saxophones on "She Brought Life," "Monsoon," "Peace of Mind," "Fallen," "Recapture," "Spilled Colors"), Thomas Morgan (bass), Mark Ferber (drums)