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Steve Cardenas: Blue Has A Range

Dan Bilawsky By

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Steve Cardenas: Blue Has A Range
Connections abound across the personnel list on this quartet date. Guitarist Steve Cardenas has been part of pianist Jon Cowherd's Mercy Project for the better part of a decade. There, and in bassist John Patitucci's Electric Guitar Quartet, he's logged some musical miles with drummer Brian Blade, who steadily employs Cowherd in his Fellowship band. And then there's bassist Ben Allison—the fourth part of the equation and the album's producer. He's a longtime Cardenas colleague—both men have played frequently enough on each other's records—and an important element in notable ventures with the guitarist and saxophonist Ted Nash. So, to put it succinctly, these aren't strangers.

This foursome's collective grasp of textural nuance goes well beyond the norm. Right from the start, on Cardenas' Wayne Shorter-indebted "Lost and Found," these men are in sync in their movements from subdued spaces to slightly sunnier environs. Nodding to the iconic saxophonist's "Lost" before riding somewhat wistful currents to new locales, everybody prizes subtlety and some give-and-take in terms of momentum. Then Cardenas, with a firmer attack and a looser, NOLA-informed outlook, speaks his "Blue Language" with remarkable fluency. Cowherd and Blade, both products of a Crescent City education, thrive in this atmosphere, and Allison is equally at home with his grounding and solo work.

Cardenas and company continue by briefly using past productions or figures as anchors. "Language of Love," a slow 6/8 charmer originally appearing on Allison's Little Things Run The World (Palmetto Records, 2008), soothes and sits just right, and "Highline," a newer original, bows to John Coltrane and his harmonic innovations. But even with those looks back and nods to what came before, the music remains fixed on the present. Focus never drifts away from active creation, nor would anybody expect it to with musicians of this caliber.

The midpoint of the album finds Cardenas in purely serene surroundings, playing a vintage Martin guitar that originally belonged to his partner's mother on the aptly titled "Fern's Guitar." Then he works with displacement and sleight of hand in drawing out the melody for the energetic "Reflector," explores quiet spaces and interiors while sharing the spotlight on "Siquijor," gets down to devious interplay during the brief "Signpost Up Ahead," and delivers the toned-down yet resolute title track as a parting gift. Painting the music in hues ranging from sapphire to sky and Prussian to powder, Cardenas, Cowherd, Allison and Blade demonstrate a range as wide as that belonging to the color of the moment. Blue rarely show so different and true.

Track Listing

Lost and Found; Blue Language; Language of Love; Highline; Fern's Guitar; Reflector; Siquijor; Signpost Up Ahead; Blue Has A Range.

Personnel

Steve Cardenas: guitar; Jon Cowherd: piano; Ben Allison: bass, acoustic; Brian Blade: drums.

Album information

Title: Blue Has A Range | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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