Nate Radley: The Big Eyes (2012)
Jazz musicians often emphasize the importance of having big ears when finding a place in the music, but big eyes are equally important. Tunnel vision and a general lack of ability to see the big picture have plagued many a musician, but guitarist Nate Radley needs no corrective musical lenses. Radley's panoramic outlook and long range sight give him a unique perspective that's on display for all to hear on his debut recording.
Radley has been building his sideman portfolio over the past few years, appearing on impressive dates with the likes of trombonist Alan Ferber, vibraphonist Matthias Lupri and saxophonist Loren Stillman, but he's finally putting his own music first. The guitarist penned all nine compositions that appear on the album and the majority of the music speaks to his fondness for long lines, dynamic development and gray-streaked atmospheres. Traces of Mike Moreno, Radiohead, Bill Frisell and Adam Rogers are noticeable at various times and in various ways, but Radley's in no danger of being dubbed a clone of anyone on this list.
His music moves from quirky and energetically off-centered ("Boo") to curious and contented ("The Big Eyes"), but a common thread can be found in most of this work. These songs tend to take form around shifting tides of energy, with Radley and drummer Ted Poor controlling the power output for the entire working unit. Radley is a mood architect who's able to move from states of desolation to anger to repose with relative ease and Poor is his perfect drumming mate. He has an effortless sense of groove, but he's one of the least pattern-driven players on the scene. Poor puts a steady, never-moving backbeat into play when needed, but he sounds best when he adjusts to the ever-changing topographical needs of the music.
While the rest of the band isn't as instrumental in directing the flow of the music, they're indispensable ingredients in Radley's recipes. Stillman proves to be a simpatico frontline mate for the guitarist, since both men prefer overcast skies to blue horizons, and bassist Matt Pavolka provides a sense of stability at every turn. Pete Rende's Fender Rhodes is often unobtrusive, but he makes his mark on the bristling "Ascent" and the slow roaming "All That's Solid."
Radley's music, by and large, is driven by personalities rather than theories or concepts and that seems to work just fine. The Big Eyes isn't melodic ear candy or chops galore, but it's thoroughly engrossing and wholly unique in its design. This may be a first effort, but it certainly doesn't sound like one.
Track Listing: Boo, January; Ascent; Silver Lining; Archipelago; The Big Eyes; Wise River; Blue Square; All That's Solid.
Personnel: Nate Radley: guitar; Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Pete Rende: Fender Rhodes; Matt Pavolka: bass; Ted Poor: drums.
Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent