How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Putting aside the rather unique structure of this delightful record, the actual music of Side-By-Side is so pleasant, light on its feet, buoyant and just plain attractive as to give one hope for the future of this earth.
Francis Jacob, raised in Geneva, Switzerland, moved to Paris in 1984 and played there, only to head for Brazil in 1989 to study Brazilian music. He finally landed in New York City in 1991, and also played with many West African artists. The musical result is a wonderful mix of sounds from all around the world, that nevertheless has Jacob's stamp on every note.
Side-By-Side is structured as two interwoven sessions with two different bands: one in which Jacob plays acoustic guitar, accompanied by the fantastic Gregoire Maret on harmonica, plus percussion and bass; and the other, a bigger band with Jacob on electric guitar accompanied by keyboards, alto saxophone and a five-piece Afro-Brazilian rhythm section that cooks.
For the most part the acoustic and electric tracks alternate. Six of the fifteen tracks are repeated, done once with each band, and are separated usually by five tracks. This structure adds further charm to the record by not only leading us back and forth through the two bands' strengths, but also by bringing a tune back after a long enough time to make you realize you actually remember the tune that Jacob has written.
Jacob's guitar style is very much influenced by the musical genres he has lived in that it strongly related to the percussive patterns flowing around him. He also does not play long lines, but breaks his statements down into smaller pieces. Furthermore, Jacob's electric style is not that far removed from his acoustic style, and his amp, with minimal distortion, is used for intensification and not to wail.
The acoustic band is smaller and hence more intimate, but can be quite intense in Jacob's laidback way. Kudos goes to Maret, who not only stands out as the only other soloist, but who speaks volumes with his harmonica, sounding like a mix of Toots Thielemans and Dino Saluzzi.
The electric band oozes rhythmic complexity underneath a vibrant groove provided by Either/Orchestra's Harvey Wirht on drums and the finely blended African and Brazilian members of the rhythm section.
In the end, the compositions and musicianship make you want to listen to Side-by-Side and revel in the sonic variations presented.
Track Listing: Children (acoustic); May Song (electric); Mon Ane (acoustic); Blues (electric); Pacific Vibes (acoustic); Children (electric); Paul (acoustic); Mon Ane (electric); Blues (acoustic); Paul (electric); On the Other Side (acoustic); Pacific Vibes (electric); On Your Steps acoustic); On Your Steps (electric); Playing Hookey (electric).