Ron Affif: Vierd Blues
This CD sneaks up on you. At first, you expect a traditional bebop guitar performance. There are many out there right now in the Alden/Bruno vein, and to be compared to such masters is no small feat. But this recording has something unique to itself: serious attitude. Affif combines chops and a sense of beauty with a "no B.S." state of mind, producing an engaging musical experience. It is made all the more satisfying due to the musicianship of Affif's able bandmates, especially pianist Brian O'Rourke.
"Vierd Blues" is an homage to Miles. All but one selection were composed by the late master, three of them coming from the seminal "Kind of Blue" album. Favorites of mine included "The Theme", served up with both humor and intensity; and the title track, which builds from a lazy front-porch swing to a low roar. Another gem, "Four" starts out with a West Coast feel, building into a bebop tour de force. The classic guitar/piano/bass trio sound never sounded better than on this track.
I notice Affif's ability to wind in and out of the changes yet continue to maintain a cohesive melodic line. He does the same thing with rhythm. One moment he's completely outside the time, the next he digs a groove deep enough to hit a water main. This guy is someone to watch out for. The fact that he is a few years younger than me is more than a little depressing.
Let me not shortchange the other players. As said before, pianist O'Rourke is a splendid player, adding a perfect foil to Affif's musical character. Acoustic guitarist Ron Anthony appears on only two tracks, making one wish he appeared on more. The rhythm section of Andy Simpkins and Colin Bailey (both Joe Pass vets) make it impossible to sound bad. Percussionist Brian Kilgore adds the right spice to the overall sound.
The entire recording is first-rate. I did have a problem with the thin, nasal sound of Affif's guitar and the fact that it was way back in the mix. I'm not sure what sound producer Eric Miller was going for, but I would advise against repeating the attempt. That having been said, "Vierd Blues" is still well worth its price, a necessary purchase for jazz guitarists.
Track Listing: 1. Solar; 2. So What; 3. Milestones; 4. Blue in Green; 5. All Blues; 6. Theme; 7. Four; 8. Seven Steps to Heaven; 9. Vierd Blues; 10. Homage to Miles: Blazing/Farewell