It's been said a thousand times, but restraint is a mark of maturity. When it comes to jazz, understatement is a particular risky maneuver because it can sputter and die right on the tracks. Red Door Number 11 bypasses this pitfall by combining a rich harmonic field with an insistentin fact, unrelenting, if that word can be used in this contextemphasis on melody.
Guitarist Garrison Fewell has led groups on wax for about ten years, starting with a series on Accurate Records. Technically he's a Bostonianand professor at Berkleebut he seems to spend most of his time traveling around Europe and the world. His last record on the Italian Splasc(h) label, City of Dreams, was a quintet date featuring saxophonist Tino Tracanna. The brand new Red Door pares things down to a quartet with pianist George Cables reappearing, joined by Italian bassist Attilo Zanchi and drummer Gianni Cazzola.
Fewell completely avoids the usual difficulties guitarists experience when playing alongside pianists, keeping his melody lines clean and never muddling up the harmony. In fact, despite the unobtrusive and propulsive presence of the rhythm section, the hub of the action lies in the counterpoint and interaction between Cables and Fewell. They bounce back and forth, trading roles, reinforcing each other's lines and surprising each other in unpredictable ways. Red Door is a lot like the timeless '60s duet recordings Bill Evans made with Jim Hall in more than a few ways. In the best ways, really.
Four originals by Fewell and his mates balance out a generous handful of standards, though these pieces are nearly indistinguishable in tone. "'Round Midnight" turns the energy down about eight notches, taking the melancholy piece deeper into the grey zone, though the pace belies Fewell's effectiveness as a player and especially an improviser. His solo playing brings a candle into the dark room and renders it a sensitive, romantic experience. The light bopping energy of "How Deep Is the Ocean" builds upon collective strengths and features some of the greatest clarity found on this record.
Provided you have the maturity to appreciate understatement, Red Door Number 11 is an unqualified success. Like his bandmates, Garrison Fewell really has nothing to prove, which in this context is a good thing. But if you're looking for sparks and drama, tune into another channel. That's not what this record is all about.
Visit Garrison Fewell on the web. This record is available from CD Baby.
Personnel: Garrison Fewell: guitar; George Cables: piano; Attilio Zanchi: bass; Gianni Cazzola: drums.