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Jim Matheos apparently decided that he needed a break from the metal-prog din of his day job as Fates Warning guitarist, so he went out and got himself a "new-agey" trio of musical buddies and recorded Away With Words , a severe departure from his work with Fates Warning that will invoke images of Michel Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" rather than headbanging prog-heads. The result is a mixed bag of "smooth jazz," complete with Tony Levin inspired bass riffs (the liner notes says the instrument used is indeed a bass, but I'd bet the house that there's a "stick" in use somewhere), and incredibly airy arrangements.
In addition to Matheos on the guitar, the rest of the band consists of Michael Manning on the bass, Mark Zander playing the drums (barely), and most noticably Charlie Bisharat handling the violin duties. The violin is featured quite prominently on Away With Words , which makes it even more disappointing that the melodies composed for the instrument are so mundane and repetitive. The musical structure of the violin parts are more akin to the "ad nasuem" riffs of house music than the more improvisational stylings of jazz. There are also some ill-conceived musical turns taken here, such as a dixie-land "ho-down" titled "Tongue Tied" that made me personnaly cringe with embarrasment.
Now that's not to say that all is bad with Away With Words - when Matheos' guitar playing is brought to the forefront of the pieces the CD fares much better. One of the stand-out tracks on the CD is a lullabye titled "Goodnight, Goodbye," which features some excellent acoustic work. However, the track on the CD that will definitely give listeners goosebumps is "Piscataquog" - an absolutely wonderful track that finishes out with two minutes of the most beautiful guitar arrangements I've heard in recent years. Matheos' style here is very reminiscient of Anthony Phillips' "Private Parts & Pieces" series - just a lush arrangement of 12-strings that is guaranteed to patch a line directly into your soul and totally de-stress your psyche.
It's a shame that Matheos decided to make the sound he successfully engineered in "Piscataquog" the exception on the CD rather than the rule. Too often on Away With Words , the violin and muted bass simply steal the soul out of Matheos' compositions. Aside from a couple of stand-out cuts, Away With Words offers very little to the potential listener - but it will make one long for a Jim Matheos solo acoustic effort where he is unencumbered by other musicians.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.