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Guitarist Grant Geissman returns after his stellar comeback disc, Say That! (Futurism, 2006), with an album that capitalizes on its predecessor's strengths while at the same time, recruiting an even larger cast of characters. Cool Man Cool is a west coast mainstream jazz affair, celebrating Cool, but with some twists and turns thrown in to make it an eclectic mix that not only highlights Geissman's undervalued talent, but those of his sidemen as well. And with guests including original employer from the '70s, flugelhornist Chuck Mangione, piano icon Chick Corea, guitarist Jerry Hahn and saxophonist Tom Scott, there's enough star power to draw those sadly unfamiliar with Geissman himself.
Geissman largely aims for a warm, hollow body sound, although he does break out a bright-toned acoustic steel string for the manouche throwback of "Minnie Lights Out," complete with accordionist Van Dyke Parks, violinist Charlie Bisharat and Trey Henry (back from Say That!) putting down his bass for one song, instead picking up a tuba to provide a distinctive Nawlins vibe. "Nawlins" also features Geissman on acoustic guitar, but this time it's a Second Line rhythm from drummer Ray Brinker (another Say That! alum), with Mangione, keyboardist Emilio Palame (also returning from Say That!) on Hammond and Geissman himself providing some impressive, feel-good solos. Geissman's strength is his ability to morph into any context, bending the notes here with bluesy intent, even as he keeps things more linear on classical guitar for the Spanish/Latin-tinged "Chuck and Chick," which features Corea alongside Mangione navigating the changes with cool aplomb.
It's undeniably a blowing session, but Geissman has a keen ear for melody and an astute ability to create appealing instrumental contexts on this all-original set. On the opening title track, it's literally a finger-snapping cool vibe; a modal blues with a melody that with its slightly off-kilter ending, is hard to forget. Brinker, Henry and pianist Palame make a formidable rhythm team, ambling along with a relaxed, confident swing that perfectly sets up woodwind multi-instrumentalist Brian Scanlon's fluid flute solo and Geissman's equally lithe feature.
Eclectic is the word here, from the sweet funk and Geissman's Wes Montgomery-esque octave lines of "Chicken Shack Jack" and fierier bop of "Too Cool for School," featuring one of Geissman's hottest solos of the set, to the softly balladic "Even If...," where Geissman's command of harmony is front and center during the solo guitar intro, and the knotty-themed, up-tempo blues of "Dig Some Sides?," where Geissman rivals his solo on "Too Cool" with another that's in even greater command of the tune's rapid changesfast arpeggios finely winding their way through like thread through a needle.
Geissman is a generous leader, providing plenty of solo space, not only to his high profile guests, but his regular band mates as well. But at the end of the day, it's Geissman who shines the most on Cool Man Cool, an unassuming set that's in turns gritty, poignant, swinging...and always nothing less than thoroughly impressive.
Track Listing: Cool Man Cool; Chick Shack Jack; Too Cool for School; Chuck and
Chick; Even If
Personnel: Grant Geissman: Gibson ES-335 electric guitar (1-3, 5-7, 9, 11-13),
Hernandis classical guitar (4), Martin 000-18 acoustic guitar (4, 8,
10), 1965 Epiphone Casino electric guitar (14), finger snaps (1);
Brian Scanlon: flute (1), soprano saxophone (4, 9), tenor saxophone
(3, 5, 10-12), alto saxophone (6); Emilio Palame: acoustic piano (1,
8), Hammond B-3 organ (10), Fender Rhodes electric piano (14); Trey
Henry: acoustic bass (1-7, 9-14), tuba (8); Ray Brinker: drums (1-7,
9-14), pie pan (8), finger snaps (1); Brian Kilgore: bongos (1),
percussion (4, 7, 9-11, 14); Paul Stilwell: finger snaps (1); Tom
Scott: tenor saxophone (2, 13); Jim Cox: Hammond B-3 organ (3, 11-
13), acoustic piano (2); Chuck Mangione: flugelhorn (4, 9, 10); Chick
Corea: acoustic piano (4); Russell Ferrante: Fender Rhodes electric
piano (4, 9), acoustic piano (5, 11); Alex Acuna: percussion (4, 7,
9-11, 14); Tom Rainer: acoustic piano (6, 7, 12); Jerry Hahn: 1952
Gibson L-7 electric guitar (7); Mike Finnigan: Hammond B-3 organ (7,
14); Van Dyke Parks: accordion (8); Charlie Bisharat: violin (8);
Dennis C. Brown: Martin 00-16T acoustic rhythm guitar (8), Gibson Les
Paul Standard electric guitar (14), Dobro (14); Patrice Rushen:
acoustic piano (10); Chuck Lorre: 1964 Fender Stratocaster electric