If George Benson, Al DiMeola, Earl Klugh and Ken Navarro all walked in for an audition, Navarro would be the first one eliminated from the competition.
That's not meant as a put-down. There's nothing wrong with the way Ken Navarro plays. He is actually quite accomplished and on The Meeting Place never fails for a moment to deliver a polished presentation. But technical proficiency is not the same thing as being a visionary. What holds Navarro back from top-tier success is his reluctance to go beyond expectations and take the next step.
Which isn't to say he doesn't have a lot going for him. He produces his own music for his own record label. He has a group of talented musicians backing him, and he doesn't squander his skills playing limp covers of pop music and making over-slick, over-produced albums that are little more than product.
The field is crowded in the smooth-jazz guitarist competition, but Navarro's lively, fluid playing is never less than enjoyable. Rob Holmes contributes an exemplary soprano sax solo on "Lakes" and throughout the album provides solid support to Navarro. The same applies to Jay Rowe's keyboards and the rhythm section of Gary Grainer on bass, Andre "Blues" Webb on drums and Kevin Prince on percussion. It's a tight unit that complements Navarro's skills as a bandleader.
Navarro doesn't mess around with unnecessary vocalizing or special guest stars flown in for a quick solo. However, while he avoids many of the clichés usually found on acoustic guitarists' albums, he's hardly among the most original of artists, choosing to play it low-key and polite. He does rock out a bit with a formidable electric guitar solo on "The Challenge," but that brief moment aside, too often it seems as if challenging himself or the listener is the furthest thing from the guitarist's mind.
If Navarro decided to get a little nasty and go for it, it might be interesting to see the results. In fact, if he really stretched out and pushed himself beyond the inherent limitations of the formulaic smooth-jazz genre, the guitarist might find himself on the receiving end of the acclaim and accolades that so far have eluded him. The Meeting Place is a superb jumping-on spot for new listeners and some positive reinforcement of Navarro's skills for old fans.
Track Listing: Lucky; Did You Hear That?; I Wish I Knew; No Other Way; My Beautiful Girls; The Meeting Place; Lakes; Just Like That; Language of Peace; That Time of Evening; The Challenge.
Personnel: Ken Navarro: accoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, electric wah-wah guitar, banjo; Rob Holmes: soprano and tenor saxophone; Jay Rowe: accoustic and electric piano, keyboards; Gary Grainger: bass; Andre "Blues" Webb: drums; Kevin Prince: percussion; Jonathan Merrill: programming; Roberto Vally: programming.