The scenes along the way here are generally bucolic ones, awash with that distinctive just after the sundown light celebrated by photographers. It's a contemplative journey"no hurry, no worry," as the cliché goes. The tempos are relaxed, the timbres unfailingly warm. Subtlety is the key word. This amiable, polished music never clamors for your attention; however, a little deep listening will yield many aural delights.
Guitarist John Stowell plays with a full, rich, bottom heavy tone and possesses a strikingly well-developed sense of harmony. He often reminds me of another underappreciated jazz guitarist, Linc Chamberland. His audacious and imaginative solos and comping draw one in; never strident or showy, he displays a fully developed musical intelligence. This is jazz by and for grown-ups.
Stowell's interaction with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop is exemplary; Scenes is a truly cooperative trio. It's evident that they really listen to each other and exchange musical ideas in a symbiotic fashion. Along the Way is an intimate, soft-spoken three-way dialogue. While spinning this disc, you might experience the feeling that you're privileged to eavesdrop on a literate and amicable conversation among old friends.
The program consists of seven compositions by Stowell and three by Johnson. The latter's "Studio City," primarily a bass feature, is an up-tempo piece; Bishop's drumming is brilliant on this serene but energetic romp, stoking the fire without burning too much kindling. Stowell's "When Jasper Grows Up" is called "new country" in the press release, although I fail to hear the connection; its beautiful melody will stick in your head.
Stowell's "Fur Heide," an exceptionally languid ballad, features some of Johnson's loveliest playing on the disc. After a Wes-ish guitar intro on "Lonely Blue Angel," a striking two-part up-tempo composition by Stowell, Johnson locks into the insinuatingly infectious bass line that anchors the second part. This is the most memorable of the compositions on the recording, with marvelously inventive solo work from Stowell.
At just over nine minutes, Stowell's "Macchu [sic] Picchu" is the longest track; it has a lilting Peru-by-way-of-Brazil feel. The aptly titled "Haiku" is a poetic ensemble miniature with a rubato solo guitar intro: a very slow, very introspective watercolor in sound with no solos per se.
Another highlight of the program is a brilliant performance of Johnson's "Castles," a fetching melody that bears a resemblance to "Stella by Starlight." There's also a Brazilian feeling to the melody and rhythm of this piece. The composer solos first, with a lovely, warm, woody sound. Stowell follows with a solo that abstracts the melody, stretching it in some harmonically adventurous directions and raising the excitement level without pushing it, before a seamless segue back to the theme.
Jazz is one of the most urban of modern musical forms, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a little rural or small town ambiance can't coexist with the city. Along the Way has that feeling: tt's more urbane than it is urban.
John Stowell: guitar;
Jeff Johnson: bass;
John Bishop: drums.