Solo Guitar: Noël Akchoté, Esmond Selwyn, Jerry Hahn
Winter & Winter
With the release of 1973's Virtuoso, Joe Pass threw down the gauntlet for solo guitar playing, showcasing a brilliant yet seemingly effortless stylistic amalgam of simultaneous bass line-walking, chordal accompaniment, and single-note improvisations that established a standard of technique and swing that has seldom been rivaled. Three recent releases show that fellow six- string slingers have taken Pass' challenge to heart, creating works of sophistication and finesse.
French guitarist Noël Akchoté has previously been associated with avant-leaning projects of heady conception and eclectic leanings, so his new recording, So Lucky, may surprise fans for its overtly commercial appeal. A collection of straightforward renditions of diatonic melodies and functional harmonies, emphasizing tunefulness over improvisative exploration, the album's appeal lies in its subtle variations on a theme, tasteful texturing and rubato moments. The tunes, an interesting mix of unknowns, sound like something you've heard before; an unlikely cover version of "The Locomotion nods to Pass in its side-slipping harmonies, legato eighth-note passages and interpolated basslines.
British guitarist Esmond Selwyn has such astounding technique that you wonder why he's not better known stateside. The Axe, recorded 'live' (two-thirds in-studio, one-third on-gig), is somewhat frustrating: the one-take-only vibe of the album generates palatable excitement, demonstrating that Selwyn's jazz spirit is alive and well, but the guitarist's predilection for mid-range chord voicings comes out a bit muddy in the final mix. In spite of this minor flaw, the playing is outstanding and inspired, bringing life to a who's who of standard chestnuts: "Stella by Starlight is boppy and full of brio, rippling with muscular, daredevil lines that make up for with charisma what they occasionally lack in accuracy; "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is contemplative, laced with spicy chromatics and spacey meanderings; and "All the Things You Are is a tour-de- forcefulness, a fast and furious two-way conversation of juxtaposed registers.
The closest kin to Pass, perhaps, is longtime John Handy guitarist Jerry Hahn, who, with Solo, proves himself a worthy successor to the guitar-as-one-man-band lineage. Like Selwyn, Hahn favors well known standards, adeptly handling the various chores usually delegated across an entire combo; like Akchoté, Hahn's arrangements are well constructed and eminently guitar friendly. Favoring a lightly chorused tone, most of the cuts serve the melody, with brief solo outings that showcase the guitarist's impeccable rhythmic drive and flowing legato ornaments, accenting the contours with unusual humps and bumps. Standout tracks include the swinging "What a Friend We Have in Jesus , "Sophisticated Lady , rendered with raked chords and fretboard flurries, and the soulful "God Bless the Child , played with clean tone.
In their own way, each of these guitarists brings a comprehensive and compelling vision to the challenging art of solo guitar playing. Poppa Pass would have been proud.
Tracks & Personnel
Tracks: Bittersweet Goodbye; Some Kind of Bliss; My Secret Heart; Come Into My World; Red Blooded Woman; The Loco-motion; Can't Get You Out of My Head; Giving You Up; Confide in Me; Tears on My Pillow; Fragile; Slow; Tell Tale Signs; I Should Be So Lucky; Wouldn't Change A Thing; Turn It Into Love; Especially for You; Fever; I'll Still Be Loving You; The Crying Game.
Personnel: Noël Akchoté: acoustic & electric guitars.
Tracks: Lover Man; Cheek to Cheek; Easy Living; I Never Knew; Skylark; I Should Care; Stella by Starlight; Tenderly; Moonglow; 'Round Midnight; How About You?; A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square; All the Things You Are; My Old Flame; It Might as Well Be Spring; Dancing on the Ceiling; You've Changed; I Fall In Love Too Easily/Softly As In a Morning Sunrise; For All We Know/I Can't Get Started.
Personnel: Esmond Selwyn: electric guitar.
Tracks: My Funny Valentine; Days of Wine & Roses; Polka Dots & Moon Beams; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; Stella by Starlight; Darn That Dream; My One & Only Love; Angel Eyes; Sophisticated Lady; Prelude to a Kiss; There is No Greater Love; God Bless the Child; As the Deer.
Personnel: Jerry Hahn: electric guitar.