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Stanley Jordan: Friends

David Rickert By

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Stanley Jordan's breakthrough recording, Magic Touch (Blue Note, 1985), was aptly named; the guitarist's two-handed tapping technique seemed to be achieved through sorcery rather than practice. People had used tapping before, but never to the level that Jordan did—comping and soloing at the same time, and giving the illusions of two guitarists playing at once. Those who have never seen it should view the YouTube clip below, to get their bearings on the guitarist's idiosyncratic style.

However, virtuosity does not equal artistry, and Jordan's releases have often been marred by poor song choice and a lack of focus. In large part this was because Jordan has a wide range of tastes—he's as likely to cover Led Zeppelin as Cole Porter—but to see that Jordan is covering Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" on Friends will cause those familiar with his work to be a little wary of what might be forthcoming.

For the most part, though, Friends is a jazz guitar lover's feast, because Jordan has recruited some other axe slingers to join in on the fun. The slow burning funk of "Walkin' the Dog," with Charlie Hunter, is filled with tasty licks, and a slightly relaxed "Giant Steps," with jazz rocker Mike Stern, is a challenge that both guitarists clearly relish, with satisfying results. "Seven Come Eleven" recalls the great Charlie Christian, with both Bucky Pizzarelli and Russell Malone joining the frontline; Pizzarelli cuts everyone with a fantastic chord solo, but the three combine to solo in unison for a dizzying climax. Like the best jam sessions, these tracks operate at a very high level, bringing together a healthy dose of one-upmanship with a spirit of camaraderie, and it's also a marvel to see how many artists handle their instruments in completely different ways.

For a while, it seems like Jordan has finally created the fantastic follow up to Magic Touch that we all knew he had in him, but a few tracks in the middle almost capsize the recording, and the second half is not nearly as good as the first. And no, "I Kissed A Girl," where Jordan plays piano with one hand and comps on guitar with the other, is not that bad. The smooth jazz schmaltz of "Bathed in Light" sounds like the worst of eighties jazz, and an improvisation on a Bartók tune, with Jordan solely on piano and Regina Carter on violin, is an aimless, lengthy performance. A lovely "Reverie," with Jordan's trio, rights the ship, but "One For Milton," a free jazz exploration that doesn't fit in with the rest of the album, is for most people mercifully placed at the end so they can skip it.

Friends is really good when it's good and really boring when it isn't. Jordan is to be commended for pursuing the unexpected—hopefully his risks will pay off better the next time.

Track Listing: Capital J; Walkin' the Dog; Lil' Darlin'; Giant Steps; I Kissed A Girl; Seven Come Eleven; Samba Delight; Bathed in Light; Romantic Intermezzo From Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra; Reverie; One For Milton.

Personnel: Stanley Jordan: guitar, piano (5, 9); Bucky Pizzarelli: guitar (3, 6); Mike Stern: guitar (4); Russell Malone: guitar (6, 11); Charlie Hunter: guitar (2, 5); Regina Carter: violin (7, 9); Kenny Garrett: soprano sax (1, 8); Ronnie Laws: soprano sax (7); Nicholas Payton: trumpet (1, 8); Christian McBride: bass (1, 8); Charnett Moffett: bass (5, 6, 10); Kenwood Dennard: drums (1-8, 10, 11).

Title: Friends | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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