This noteworthy album by Chuck Anderson, one of our finest guitarists, was composed and recorded in the midst of the pandemic but with no mention of it in the liner notes, so you can draw your own conclusions as to whether the "dominos" in the title bear any relation to the "falling dominos" of all the troubling things that are happening these days.
In the past, Anderson himself had undergone two recoveries from major medical conditions that disrupted his career, but like Rasputin, his comebacks have been exceptional, including the consistent output of his working trio with bass guitarist Eric Schreiber
and drummer Ed Rick
, who have several albums already behind them as a group.
Just like their first CD, Free Fall
(Dreambox Media, 2010), the current recording consists entirely of Anderson's well-crafted originals. A special feature of this album is the unique way that Anderson and Schreiber work together to provide a bass and guitar interaction that brings the tracks together into a unity, the way dominos are connected together to form a pattern of linked pieces. It's rare to find a jazz album where the guitar and bass guitar are engaged in such a conversant dialogue throughout. Drummer Ed Rick plays a background role, keeping the game rhythmically interesting and consistent.
Mike Oppenheim's review in Jazz Guitar Today
states that "Anderson's unique attention to compositional technique and craft results in harmonically rich tunes with a depth and intrigue more often associated with pianistic writing." This is spot on. The twelve tracks/tunes are wide ranging in tempos, feels, and styles.
The first two tracks have hints of "soul jazz." The title tune "Domino" suggests Wes Montgomery
's influence in composition, rhythm, and harmony. "The Recovery Blues" is straight-ahead upbeat blues with a bass walk. The pleasurable improvisations by Anderson are after all not so sad at all.
"Love Song for a Sad Sunday Afternoon" changes the pace to a Latin samba, laid back, but again not so sad. Anderson shows a solid grasp of Brazilian rhythm and improvisation. Then there is a shift back to soul jazz with "Mr Shady." Pat Martino
could really dig this snappy tune with its infinite improvisational possibilities. Anderson's approach, however, is quite a bit gentler than what Martino might do with it.
"Monet's Waltz" is a beautiful, impressionist composition that begins with a cymbal splash, followed by guitar and bass guitar in a slow ¾ time. Flourishes by Anderson suggest a painterly quality. One could imagine Monet in garden or along a river capturing nuances of color and light on the canvas. There is a subtle combination of guitar and bass movement that could make for a musical backdrop for one of Monet's pictures at an exhibition.
"Watson's Walk" (reference to Sherlock Holmes' sidekick possibly intended) is a moderately paced tune with a swagger, the masculine ego expressed in a proud bass walk and a clever melody. "Ivory" is something Jim Hall
might have enjoyed playing, a simple melody perfect for guitar improvising, and it is the only track on the album where Schreiber serves as a purely rhythm section bassist instead of joining Anderson in the action.
The title of "Checkmate" seems to be expressed in the dramatic accents on the second and third beats of ¾ time: move; check; checkmate. On the other hand, "Fire Frost" is an imagist song, evoking perhaps snow on the ground outside, with a sparking flame in the fireplace suggested by Anderson's staccato high notes.
"Soft Sands Samba" is very nicely done with a nod to Antonio Carlos Jobim
. The beautiful guitar work shows Anderson at his best, and Schreiber takes a classy solo as well, showing his special ability with melodic lines. "Fulcrum" is loaded with intensive guitar work that exemplifies Anderson's particular straight-ahead style that may have been acquired from comping for so many great singers at the Latin Casino way back when. The set concludes with "Open Door," a snappy tune with a kind of "passacaglia" recurrent bass line by Schreiber, except in 4/4 time.
This album is unique and flavorful in many respects, especially the varied and imaginative tunes and the guitar / bass guitar interactions. The only reservation: after a while the unrelenting sonority of guitar and bass guitar has a kind of "drone" effect, so that playing it through from beginning to end can be tiring. Better enjoyed, perhaps, a few tracks at a time.
(All Anderson originals): Domino; The Recovery Blues; Love Song for a Sad Sunday Afternoon; Mr
Shady; Monet’s Waltz; Watson’s Walk; Ivory; Checkmate; Fire Frost; Soft Sands Samba; Fulcrum;