Steve Cardenas has worked as a superb accompanist to classic groovers Eddie Harris and Jay McShann, classic modernists Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, and a newer breed of female vocalists, such as Kate McGarry, Rebecca Martin and even Miss Norah Jones. Unusually, he's best-known for work in ensembles that spin twin guitars, as a member of Motian's Electric Bebop Band (where he's split duties with Kurt Rosenwinkel and now, Ben Monder) and Joey Baron's "Killer Joey" (with Brad Shepik).
Release of this December 2002 session confirms that Cardenas has spent too much time flying under the radar of guitar and jazz aficionados. While he has drawn previous comparison in print to Metheny, the analogy is facile, concluded insofar as he uses a bit of reverb and, on balance, a clean tone.
The band features the in-demand talents of Larry Grenadier (Brad Mehldau), drummer Kenny Wolleson (Sex Mob), and for my money, jazz's saxman-to-watch, Tony Malaby. Steve Cardenas can write, too, as evidenced by the modernity and natural ebb and flow of the head of "Sights." Listen to Cardenas' linear conversation with the changes, over Grenadier's authoritative walking, then spacious, line, and hear that he belongs in the class of New York's (and therefore the world's) elite contemporary guitar men. Here, Malaby shows his casual mastery of the bop idiom, combining it with his distinctive tone changeups, confirming his consistent knack for knocking the dates he appears on up a full star in the ratings.
As befitting an employee of Mr. Motian, Steve Cardenas has done his time wrapping his head around the styles of the masters. In fact, he's worked so hard on Monk's compositions, he's done a book on them. This could be inferred upon hearing the effortlessness with which he negotiates the close-voiced counterpoint of "Introspection," interjecting elegant swing into the challenging head before linearly zipping through the solo changes, tossing in a pristine chord solo for good measure.
The set's funkiest and most accessible tracks are its first and last, a New Orleans shuffled cover of Charlie Parker's "Visa" and the funkified Latin root-fifth motions of "Salsita." The former has Cardenas spinning out sophisticated lines full of collapsing chromaticism and precise arpeggiations, Malaby blowing up a blues drenched storm. The 30 second head of "Salsita" ends in a pregnant pause, a catchy groove tune worthy of radio push that it won't get, but assuredly deserves. The bit of grittiness Cardenas throws into his tone is refreshing, as are the slightly dissonant clusters of chordal flavor added to the mix.
But perhaps Cardenas' greatest potential to reach a larger audience lies in the ballads, like his bossa gem "Isso Para Dizer" and the heady swirl of "D. Marie." This is where a Metheny comparison has credence, because the sheer melodicism of memorable melody in which these songs are soaked is on that poignant a plane, making them that universal in appeal.
For more info, visit Steve Cardenas and Fresh Sound Records on the web.
Personnel: Steve Cardenas (guitar), Tony Malaby (saxophone), Larry Grenadier (bass), Kenny Wollesen (drums)