These days it's all too easy to hear the reference points for younger guitarists. Metheny, Frisell, Scofield... it's hard to find up-and-coming players who haven't been touched by at least one of these benchmarks, and Jamie Fox is no different on his debut as a leader, When I Get Home. Still, one would be hard-pressed to find any artist who hasn't some frame of reference in other artists past or present. The question is: what are they doing with it?
It would be too easy to dismiss tracks like "Five and One Half, with its light Latin tinge, or the Midwestern ambience of "Row After Row, as Metheny-esque, especially with Fox's choice of a warm, hollow body electric tone. And while he chooses a steel-string acoustic for the ambling title track, the horn arrangementsplayed by Dan Willis and Peck Almondfeel like something straight out of John Scofield's Quiet (Verve, 1996) or This Meets That (Emarcy, 2007), despite the latter disc being recorded well after When I Get Home was in the can.
Other tracks reveal a broader mindset. "All in Time opens as turbulent rubato, with bassist Stephan Crumpon whose Rosetta (Papillon Sounds, 2006) Fox playedand drummer Michael Sarin seamlessly moving through an episodic composition that turns to gentle pulse and, ultimately, more visceral funk. The groove may be undeniable, but as Fox and Willis create complex counterpoint the guitarist's expansive personality shines through. He may wax lyrical like Metheny, but he's no clone; navigating the changes with an ease that belies an under-the-hood harmonic complexity.
"Moniker swings lightly, bringing to mind some of Scofield's mid-1990s Blue Note discs with Joe Lovano; Dan Willis' dexterous tenor completing the reference. Fox's solo cleverly combines rich chordal passages with blues and bop-inflected lines that manage to combine the best of his stylistic references into something different. It's that ability to wear his influences on his sleeve without losing sight of who he is that makes Fox a guitarist worth watching. And when he moves into tango territory on "Ognat, he completely distances himself, as he does on the elegant bossa-meets-Americana of "Leisure, where his solo is the definition of economy and unremitting invention.
Throughout, Crump and Sarin are ideal accompanists, with Crump delivering a number of memorable solos. Willis and Almond join in on a few tracks, as does pianist Kenny Werner, who contributes some characteristically in-the-pocket support and graceful soloing on the harmonically deceptive yet accessible "Mine & Yours.
But it's the trio tracks, including the soft ballad "Childhood, where Fox is at his best, specifically because he's on his own to create an expansive soundscape that's as much about space and sustain as it is lithe playing. It's one of a number of understated moments on When I Get Home, a debut that may not make its statement with power and chops (despite the certainty that Fox possesses both), but continues to reveal greater depth with each successive listen.
Personnel: Jamie Fox: guitars; Kenny Werner: piano; Dan Willis: saxophone and bass clarinet; Stephan Crump: bass; Michael Sarin: drums; Peck Allmond: trumpet, saxophone, euphonium.