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Recently those of us who write for All About Jazz were asked to submit our top ten choices for the best CD of 2004. Unfortunately for Carl Orr, I did not get to hear his 2004 release until 2005.
English guitarist Orr, who spent his formative years in Australia, has been around for some timebut his claim to fame up to this point has been a four-year stint with Billy Cobham's band. (Cobham makes two impressive appearances on this record as a guest star.)
Absolute Freedom is a real revelation. Orr is an outstanding guitarist whose facilities are utilized in various and disparate settings. Whether leading his band in an updated Larry Coryell Eleventh House motif, as on the opening number, "Unstoppable"; or in a happy blues number a la Jeff Beck in "Blues for Jimi"; or in a Tommy Bolinesque fusillade, as heard in "Non-violence is the only way forward"; Orr handles his chores with ease. He's not afraid to play quietalways a sign of a great guitar playerand he is not afraid to shred his guts out. His compositions are intriguing mixtures of bluesy funk, sometimes real slow, and jazz-rock signatures with a little space and texture thrown in.
I could be wrongthat hasn't stopped me beforebut several tunes seem to pay homage to Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and even to Billy Cobham's wonderful but often overlooked fusion classic, Crosswinds. Orr also seems to admire Steely Dan in form and structure and in fact covers a tune written by Donald Fagen. That is not to say that Orr is derivative in any way. But, the only way to describe music is to compare it. In this case, the comparison is with really good players.
Orr's compatriots are very good. Keyboardist Adam Glasser is at home laying down beautiful soundtracksthink Steely Dan and Crosswinds and is willing to take road trips with some frenetic and tasty comping and lead playing. Bassist Neville Malcom can bend and snap the strings with the best of the funkers, and drummer Davide De Rose seems to have the drumming thing down. In addition to Cobham, guest soprano sax Nathan Haines makes a very strong appearance.
Absolute Freedom is full of new ideas explored most fully by a collection of players that know how to play the old ideas as well. This is a very worthwhile recording. Perhaps I can skirt the rules a bit next year and include it on my best of 2005 list.