As a corporation, Mel Bay has been well known for decades for providing guitar instructional material. A rather recent change has been the corporate venture as a jazz music label. MB has issued multiple albums from their roster of jazz guitarists. The three plectrists featured on Jazz Hits Volume 1 are Vic Juris, Jimmy Bruno and Corey Christiansen. These veterans are supported by bassist Jay Anderson, who also served as arranger, and drummer Danny Gottlieb. The session was recorded last May in New Paltz, New York.
Although the guitarists all have previously released MB albums under their individual names, this is a joint effort to present a series of well-regarded jazz standards played largely in a mid-tempo setting. Contrary to MB's previous educational efforts regarding the guitar, the label has seen fit to not provide any distinctive information regarding the individuals, insofar as distinguishing their playing styles or solo appearances on this album. Thus, the tendency is for the listener to regard the total project as a highly listenable and likeable effort, without knowing who is contributing to any one musical moment. In this regard, a few words would have gone a long way.
Vic Juris goes back to 1976 on record and has a long history of appearing with altoist Richie Coles. In addition to his MB debut, his albums have also appeared on the Muse, Steeplechase and Zoho labels. Philadelphian Jimmy Bruno is a bebop guitarist whose albums for the Concord label appeared from 1991-2001 in tandem with his guitar trio, duets with guitarist Joe Beck, Hammond B-3 meister Joey DeFrancesco and tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. The least known of the three, Corey Christiansen, is an educator, author and clinician whose sole release to date is 2004's Awakening (Mel Bay).
The compositions chosen for this album are all crowd pleasersMiles Davis' "Solar," Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" and John Coltrane's "Impressions"and are all jazz standards, with the exception of the Hammerstein/Romberg piece "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise." With the exception of Miles Davis' "Milestones," the tunes are all taken at a relaxed tempo. Davis' "All Blues" is appropriate given a most bluesy reading, complete with a Christiansen Resonator guitar intro and outro a la music from the Mississippi Delta.
Track Listing: Solar; Cantaloupe Island; Impressions; Peace; All Blues; Freedom Jazz Dance; On Green Dolphin Street;
Milestones; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; Killer Joe.
Personnel: Vic Juris, Jimmy Bruno, Corey Christiansen: guitars; Jay Anderson: bass; Danny Gottlieb: drums.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.