Guitarist Francis Jacob's first project is undoubtedly the result of his varied musical background. Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Jacob played flute as a child and then switched to guitar as a teen. His interest in rock musicians was replaced by the popularity of jazz guitarists George Benson, John Abercrombie and John Scofield. After studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in the early '80s, Jacob began playing in Paris in 1984. He then left for Brazil in 1989 to study the music and play with local musicians. Settling in New York in 1991, in the cooperative group Dyamora Jacob also worked along with Abass Badji, a Senegalese percussionist, as well as with touring African artists like Kine Lam, Ibro Diabate, Sekouba Kouyate, Fode Kouyate Kerfala Kante and King Mensah
For the purposes of this new album, Francis Jacob and The Flying Saucers has come up with an interesting, but flawed, concept. The title of the album, Side by Side, reflects Jacob's interest in presenting the tunes in two different settings, acoustic and electric, However, the presentation is not user-friendly so that after the opening track, "Children," is presented acoustically, it is not repeated in an electric format until track six, almost thirty minutes later. On a 73-minute album, it is easy to lose one's train of thought insofar as categorizing the same song that appears in two different formats scattered through the album and not in a linear side-by-side setting.
For purposes of distinction, the acoustic sides are far more interesting as the majority of music comes from Jacob's guitar work and chromatic harmonicist Gregoire Maret. Maret is fast becoming a well-recorded musician who may one day replace jazz harmonicist Toots Thielemans as the number one "miscellaneous" musician. Two other accompanists on these acoustic tracks deserve full credit for providing a wide range of music: bassist Stomu Takeishi and percussionist Sato Takeishi. On "On the Other Side" respected singer Gretchen Parlato provides the vocal.
For the purposes of the electric selections, Francis Jacob and The Flying Saucers provides, for the most part, smooth jazz versions with the majority of melody chores handled by alto saxophonist Aaron Heick. The resulting music is indistinguishable from tracks featured on smooth jazz radio. What makes a few of the electric tracks different and interesting is Jacob's merging of World Music influences. "Mon Ane" is distinguished by the African flavor of vocalist Alioune Faye and conga player Gilmar Gomes. The heavy electric guitar work of Francis Jacob is what places this composition in an "electric" category. On other tracks, the percussion expertise of Koko The Wonderman on talking drum, as well as percussion from the aforementioned Gomes and Faye, adds much interest. If more of the electric selections were in this category, this would have been an infinitively better product.
Personnel: Francis Jacob: guitar. Acoustic Group: Stomu Takeishi: acoustic and electric bass; Sato Takeishi: percussion; Gregoire Maret: harmonica; Gretchen Parlato: vocals.
Electric Group: Aaron Heick: alto sax; Mamadou Ba: electric bass; Harvey Wirht: drums; Gilmar Gomes: Brazilian percussion; Alloune Faye: djembe, sabar, vocals; Koto the Womderman: talking drum.