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How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The title of Australian jazz guitarist James Sherlock's Solo is deceptively simple, because these eleven selections reveal a guitarist and arranger of uncommon sensitivity and advanced technique. Sherlock, perhaps aware of the challenge of concentrating on a single instrument, offers up only 35 minutes of music. However, the performance is absolutely captivating, and only whets the appetite for more. The four covers are interesting, revealing something of Sherlock's openness to all music, ranging as they do from the American show tunes of Van Heusen & Burke, and Lerner & Lane, to modern classical guitarist/arranger Leo Brouwer and English punk/rock band the Stranglers. In Sherlock's hands the common denominator in such seemingly disparate music is the seductive melodies which are central to his playing. Deft harmonics and an individualistic approach to his instrument bring a pleasingly homogenous style to all the pieces.
The opening "2002" has a dreamy, impressionistic quality, and underlines Sherlock's preoccupation with beauty over virtuosic displays. "Domestic Arts and Sciences," "It Could Happen to You" and "J.J." show more of Sherlock's chops, and he displays a fleet yet melodic technique seldom heard since the passing of Charlie Byrd
. The simple groove of Leo Brouwer's "Study 3 from Estudios Sencillos" is a launching pad from which Sherlock executes some enticing runs, and at times it sounds as though there is more than one pair of hands at work.
Sherlock plays in two groupsKidney, and The Local Group, alongside pianist, composer and arranger Steve Newcomband here interprets one of Newcomb's tunes, the miniature "Still." This piecedeceptively spare yet atmosphericshares a similar musical space to "2002," where Sherlock's absorption in small detail and the beauty inherent in simplicity itself is suggestive, in spirit, of much of Bill Frisell
's work. His folksy reading of the Lerner/Lane chestnut "Too Late Now" also has a Frisell-like logic, and is utterly charming. Sherlock's voice however, is very much his own, and the denser architecture of tunes like "Regensburg" and "Over" show him to be a sophisticated composer.
It's curious that so relatively few cover versions of Greenwell/Black/Cornwell's "Golden Brown" have been recorded, as this Stranglers song from 1981 is surely one of the most beautiful tunes ever written, and undoubtedly the most melodically beautiful tune ever composed about heroin. Weaving a bass line into the tune, Sherlock sticks close to the melody, as might be expected. The chord harmonics and Sherlock's improvisations bring a distinct jazz feeling to this wonderful interpretation. Sherlock is a fine melodist, and for sheer beauty it would be hard to match the hypnotic "Lilypad," which is both stately and romantic at the same time.
Sherlock is a wonderful guitarist, and a craftsman of songs possessing beauty and depth. Solo should make a few Top 10s of the year and help propel Sherlock onto the bigger stage he surely deserves. Definitely a name to watch out for.
Track Listing: 2002; Domestic Art & Sciences; Study 3 from Estudios Sencillos; Still; Golden Brown; J.J.; Regensburg; Too Late Now; Over; It Could Happen to You; Lilypad.