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How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Why there are so few woman instrumentalists in jazz is a mystery. While there have been a few, like Mary Lou Williams, who have earned a solid place in the music's history, jazz remains a genre dominated mainly by men. Cut to San Francisco Bay Area guitarist Mimi Fox, who, with a strong post-bop style that bridges the gap between traditional and modern styles, will hopefully gain the recognition she deserves. After a series of recordings on smaller independent labels, she has now been picked up by Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, and with She's the Woman , she continues to deliver on the high standards she has set on earlier work.
From the opening track, "East Coast Attitude," you know you are listening to an artist of consequence. With a theme that is enough to make most guitarists scratch their heads in wonder, she then moves into a solo section where, with lightening fast runs, double-stop chords and repeated motifs that are reminiscent of Pat Martino, she literally blows the roof off.
But that's not all Fox is about. While her traditional roots with guitarists including Wes Montgomery are evident, she is also more contemporary. "Sousa" is a Caribbean-flavoured tune where Fox demonstrates she is also about soul; "Denny's Tune" is a light samba, complete with steel drums.
On "Buddy's Blues" she plays in a relaxed, behind-the-beat fashion that draws a line between her more contemporary approach and Grant Green while also displaying the fluidity of Kenny Burrell; on her harmonically-rich solo pieces, "Lullaby of the Leaves" and "Darn That Dream" she shows that she can ably take the torch passed by Joe Pass and Lenny Breau.
From the light funk and more abstruse lines of "Angel Eyes" to the more direct grease of the Lennon/McCartney tune, "She's a Woman," Fox demonstrates an almost frightening command of her instrument. It's no surprise that she has caught the attention of artists as diverse as Charlie Hunter, Jim Hall and Russell Malone. Music ought to be gender-blind, and while much can be said about Fox's championing the way for other women in the genre, she deserves to be judged on the merits of her playing, which is as fine as it gets.
All the more surprising is that she is primarily self-taught; she demonstrates an encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz guitar history, rock solid technique, innate musicality and a sense of swing that permeates everything she plays. She's the Woman is another fine entry in a growing catalogue of recordings from a guitarist who will hopefully continue to garner notice on the international stage; until then we can be grateful to Steve Vai for picking her up and drawing attention to this fine, as yet underappreciated artist.
Track Listing: East Coast Attitude; Sosua; Buddy's Blues; Angel Eyes; Darn That Dream; Raquel, Mi Amor; Denny's Tune; Lullabye of the Leaves; On the Sunny Side of the Street; She's a Woman
Personnel: Mimi Fox (guitar, handclaps on "She's a Woman", vocal on "Sosua"), Ray Drummond (bass on "East Coast Attitude," "Buddy's Blues," "On the Sunny Side of the Street"), Jon Evans (bass on all other tracks, handclaps on "She's a Woman", vocal on "Sosua"), Randy Halberstadt (piano), Tim Bulkley (drums on "East Coast Attitude," "Buddy's Blues," "On the Sunny Side of the Street"), Paul van Wageningen (drums, all other tracks), Tom Miller (steel drums, percussion, congas), Amanda Newstetter (vocal on "Sosua")