Paul Santa Maria is a jazz guitarist, composer, and longtime bassist and studio engineer for Larry Coryell. In an ode to his 1961 Gibson Johnny Smith, Santa Maria plays eleven tracks of unaccompanied jazz guitar on his self-released 2002 CD Johnny Speaks.
The round tone of Santa Maria's vintage hollow-body guitar shimmers through these eleven tracks. The tunes are mostly short inventions and improvisations, running between one and two minutes each. Santa Maria makes full use of the unaccompanied format by slowing or speeding up the tempo to emphasize the emotional content of the music, as solo classical music performers often do. Most of the tracks include rhythm guitar chording, subtly mixed beneath the melodies. The songs are mellow in the tradition of hollow-body jazz guitar masters like Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery, but Santa Maria's compositions retain a unique flavor.
His playing is skillful and evocative, without ever being flashy or tawdry, like so many current fusion guitarists. The tone is simple and classic. Johnny Speaks was recorded in November 1984 and mastered to CD from analog cassette, according to the liner notes, but the slight tape hiss never detracts from the tonal range of Santa Maria's guitar.
Most of the tracks on Johnny Speaks are now available on Santa Maria's 32-track CD Invention, including several new collaborations with Larry Coryell. Fans of traditional jazz guitar should definitely check out Paul Santa Maria.
1. Steam Bath; 2. Espana; 3. Autumn Dance; 4. Brewings; 5. Raintime; 6. Observations; 7. Observations
2; 8. Striptease; 9. Past Love; 10. Liberation Day; 11. The Last Word.