Solo artist and member of the critically acclaimed “String Trio of New York”, guitar virtuoso James Emery has produced a bonafide winner in Spectral Domains. Emery is one of the world’s finest guitarists and possesses an encyclopedic jazz vocabulary as a technician and composer. The James Emery Septet is an assemblage of modern, cutting edge jazz musicians who have been shaping and to some extent, reinventing modern jazz through refreshingly new concepts and adept technical proficiency.
Emery’s 1997 ENJA release, “Standing On A Whale..” is superb; however, Spectral Domains is Emery’s finest solo outing to date. Emery’s composition titled, “Red Spaces In A Blue Field, PT 1” is complex and technically challenging complete with alternating themes, precise time signatures and generous doses of hard edged swing. Here, gifted saxophonist and woodwind specialist, Chris Speed performs on the clarinet while trading airy, light-as-a-feather choruses with Marty Ehrlich’s fluid, over-the-top flute work. Throughout, Speed and the estimable multi-reedman Marty Ehrlich wear many hats as they toggle between various woodwind instruments along with Emery’s brilliantly conceived phrasing and soloing. In the liners, Emery states that “Red Spaces In A Blue Field, PT 2....” was influenced by Monk, Mingus and Ellington”. Charles Mingus’ Far Wells, Mill Valley” is injected with themes, which suggest Spanish “bravado” The soloists are predictably outstanding for their combined grace, wit and execution. Here, The Septet possess a “little big band” sound which was often evident in Mingus’ small group ensembles. On “Far Wells, Mill Valley”, Emery & Co. present captivating twists and turns, sheer elegance and cunning ingenuity. Emery’s “Chromosphere” features an arrangement, which borders “Chamber” and “New York City Downtown Scene modernism”.
Special kudos to the all world rhythm section of Michael Formanek (bass), Kevin Norton (vibes, marimba, percussion.) and Gerry Hemmingway (drums) for their keen sense of dynamics and sympathetic accompaniment. Kevin Norton is the painter as he supplies subtle shades and bright colorful tonalities throughout the entire project. Emery’s incredibly fast single note runs, complex chord progressions and clever utilization of harmonics make for delightful listening on Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle”. Chris Speed’s solemn, reflective clarinet performance on the Coleman/Metheny classic “Kathelin Gray” meshes well with Emery’s “classic” jazz style guitar in this brief yet lovely duet. Bassist-composer Mark Helias conducted Emery’s “Sound Action Seven” as the Septet take sort of an Anthony Braxton-ish approach. A lengthy tone poem, the music becomes furiously conversational and is orchestrated in clusters; hence, “Sound Action Seven” takes on a free-jazz complexion. The albums amiable closer is an Emery composition titled, “Strings Of Thread”. Here, violinist Mark Feldman jazzes up a quaint Brazilian motif as the project ends on an affably simple yet highly entertaining note.
Supported by an all-star ensemble of proven modern jazz stylist’s and session aces, Spectral Domains features staggering technical virtuosity, remarkable creative spirit and unique renderings of jazz classics. Folks, this is the complete package! ***** (Excellent)
Personnel: James Emery; Acoustic Guitar: Marty Ehrlich; Alto Sax, Soprano Sax & Flute: Chris Speed; Tenor Sax & Clarinet: Mark Feldman; Violin: Michael Formanek; Bass: Gerry Hemmingway; Drums: Kevin Norton; Vibes, Marimba & Percussion.