Guitarist Peter Leitch has been so long in that category of "talent deserving wider recognition" that it's almost a given that "household name" status will probably continue to allude him. And it probably doesn't abet the matter that his work on the small Reservoir label, not to mention his Criss Cross sides, can be elusive to the casual jazz shopper. But despite all this, make no mistake; Leitch is a pro and one of the better guitarists of his generation. It's been a three-year wait since his previous Reservoir release, but the benefits of Blues on the Corner make it all seem worthwhile.
Very much akin to 1989's Portraits and Dedications, a disc this reviewer considers one the guitarist's all-time best, Blues on the Corner makes the most of Leitch's picturesque writing for a sharp ensemble that includes piano whiz Renee Rosnes, saxophonist Bobby Watson (hey, he's been missed on the mainstream circuit!), bassist Dwayne Burno, and drum legend Billy Hart. Adding a colorful new hue to it all, the wordless vocals of Kendra Shank are added on half of the album's ten cuts. Although this technique can be perilous in less talented hands, the blend here of Shank's voice with Leitch's guitar and Watson's alto is charming and provocative.
Lending to the variety, Leitch mixes in some standards with his own hearty compositional fare. Temperate and relaxed, "K. Zee" is one of the ballads of the set. "Wendy's Shoes" is a middle-of-the-road romp that puts Leitch into the "Wes zone" with some nice octave leaps. Finally, "Johan Carolyn" hits its stride as a delicate bossa, while "The Hillary Step" finds Hart's drums an integral part of the arrangement for this bop-inflected line. Rounding things out, Leitch makes it as a trio with Burno and Hart for "Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You," "Monk's Mood/Bemsha Swing," and "How Long Has This Been Going On." There's also the solo original, "Bud 'n Bird," taking its inspiration from two be- bop legends.
Leitch's guitar work gleams throughout, facile and fluent even at the speediest of tempos and with a warm and burnished tone not unlike that of Jim Hall. Each of his cohorts is equally on the ball, pianist Rosnes especially deft over the duration of the entire set. Of course, what else would we expect from this seasoned pro? Now if we can just sell a few more discs and send a few more gigs his way we will have done our part.
Blues on the Corner, The Hillary Step, Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You, Johan Carolyn, Monk's Mood/Bemsha Swing, K. Zee, Wendy's Shoes, Bud 'n Bird, How Long Has This Been Going On?, From This Moment On (71:04)
Peter Leitch- guitar, Bobby Watson- alto & soprano saxophones, Kendra Shank- vocals, Renee Rosnes- piano, Dwayne Burno- bass, Billy Hart- drums
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