Go figure guitarist/vocalist Doug Wamble. On the strength of his sophomore release, Bluestate, he's clearly an amalgam of a variety of influencesblues, gospel, bebop, country, even a little bluegrass and a hint of the Middle Eastern. He's as likely to cover Peter Gabriel, Steve Wonder and traditional spirituals as he is write his own complex charts, some featuring his rich baritone voice, all demonstrating his remarkable stylistic breadth on that most unlikely of jazz instruments, the acoustic guitar. He's equally at home with down-home swing as he is more outré excursions: deeply serious at times, idiosyncratically tongue-in-cheek at others.
All of which might imply that Wamble doesn't know who he is or who he wants to be, but that couldn't be further from the truth. After the out-of-the-blue success of his first record, Country Libations (Marsalis Music, '03), he returns with a second effort that, for all its artistic diversity, somehow remains focused and speaks with a single voice. In a time when so many singers are representing the ubiquitous face and dumbing-down of popular contemporary jazz, Wamble shows that it's possible to remain true to one's artistic goals and be approachable at the same time.
Take "If I Live to See the Day. This condemnation of current US foreign policy is arguably the most complex composition the artist has written to date, and yet it doesn't sound forced or overly-considered. Part of this is due to the rapport Wamble's developed with the other members of his grouppianist Roy Dunlap, bassist Jeff Hanley, and drummer Peter Milesafter considerable touring. Wamble's solo proves his ability to navigate difficult changes with ease, with a vividly melodic sensibility and a relaxed way of phrasing. Equally, his instrumental "The Homewrecker Hump is an idiosyncratic, odd-metered tune that ultimately becomes an up-tempo blues for solos from Wamble and Dunlap, proving that you can swing in 10/8.
Elsewhere, the artist's covers demonstrate an ability to get to the essence of a song while giving it a complete makeover. Peter Gabriel's "Washing of the Water divides the tune up into discrete sections, with solos from Wamble and Dunlap linking them together. The rubato treatment and gradual build to its dynamic bridge simply wouldn't be possible without everyone in the band being in total sync. Wamble's treatment of Stevie Wonder's "Have a Talk with God combines his rootsy slide guitar, Miles' tambourine, Hanley's deep groove, and Dunlap's gospel leanings into pure church, while the traditional "Rockin' Jerusalem is a twelve-minute tour-de-force that features producer Branford Marsalis in a guest appearance on tenor saxophone.
Finishing with the bluegrass-meets-jazz "The Bear and the Toad, Bluestate is a considerably more diverse album than Wamble's country blues-inflected first disc. Providing even greater insight into his considerable talents, Bluestate takes an historic perspective on many of the musical forms that defined 20th Century American music, combining them into a compelling blend that's absolutely contemporary for the first part of the 21st.
If I Live to See the Day; Washing of the Water; The Homewrecker Hump; Antoine's Pillow Rock; Rockin' Jerusalem; One-Ninin'; No More Shrubs in Casablanca; Have a Talk with God; Gone Away; The Bear and the Toad.
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