A lot of musicians first learn their craft through the various method books produced by Mel Bay Publications. And so it is within reason to expect outstanding technique on the recordings recorded by Mel Bay Records.
Solo , guitarist Jimmy Bruno's first album for the fledgling label, doesn't disappoint on that score. It's a fiercely swung set of standards and originals featuring walking bass lines, sweep-picked arpeggios, and whole tone scales imaginatively deployed on solo guitar. There's even a rendition of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Bruno not only improvises melodically and soulfully over the tune's labyrinthine chord progression, he also does it while playing at light speed.
But the technical fireworks don't always equate to emotional ones.
The opening track "Have You Met Miss Jones" evokes all the wit and swing of the Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers composition, but none of its romance and pathos. The lack of nuance in Bruno's rendition is made glaring by the Joe Pass version on his solo guitar album Virtuoso.
The rest of the record, however, doesn't suffer from that problem. Bruno makes "Joy Spring" strut along as he burns across his fretboard. "Benny's Tune," an original, is a surprising highlight given its illustrious company on the record, but its easygoing blues and brash lilt make it infectious. And when the tempo slows on "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "Darn That Dream," Bruno plays with an honest lyricism that is wrenching and evocative.
In the end, Solo does indeed show off technical prowess. But the meaning Bruno reveals when he plays is more noteworthy.