San Antonio's Mike Brannon has one of the most uplifting guitar tones and approaches to improvisation in contemporary jazz, besides a flair for composition. His playing and writing are informed by fellow travelers like Metheny and Scofield, but not derivative of either. And he knows how to draw out the best from his associates, be they the regular Synergy members (Andy Langham, Gerry Gibbs and Brandon Rivas) or special guests like Bill Evans, Paul Wertico and Harvie S.
Later begins with a series of three guest-laden dedications. "Vision/FYI is a bittersweet bow to the late tenor man Bob Berg, who was originally tapped as the guest saxophonist on this album. Berg was killed in a car accident as the rhythm tracks were being recorded, and the feature tune became an homage. Evans is a more than able substitute, however, and his attractive tone is a perfect complement to Brannon's chorused guitar bursts.
"Gumbo, saluting the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, is driven by an infectious second-line groove that symbolizes the hopeful joie de vivre of New Orleans. Brannon takes a chair and lets his three guests dance through the streets. Wertico and S parry and lock delectably here, then settle into gentler roles on "String Theory, for the ailing Michael Brecker. One might wonder why a dedication to a saxophonist has no saxEvans has packed up and gone by nowbut the remaining trio acquits itself admirably. Brannon's crystalline sound is closest to Metheny on this shimmering, gorgeous tale.
The next several tracks feature the members of the standard Synergy quartet, no slouches themselves. From the opening notes of "Scratch, we find Gibbs and Rivas fairly burning to leap out of their arranged restraints. An almost unbearable tension builds up to and through the solos by Brannon and Langham, driven by an insistent cymbal ride and hypnotizing bass drone. A wonderful construct, as are the other tunes. "Parking Space fades in and out, apparently pulled from one red-hot jam session.
Brannon allows himself some solid feature spotsgoing completely solo on "September 28th and "Loose Ends ; adding crisp acoustic strumming, accented with harmonics and overlaid by electric sitar sounds, on "Just Like Now. He uses effects judiciously, though he dives into some fearless experimentation on the multitracked "Dream Sequence. But Brannon is no space hog, and he allows plenty of face time for his compadres. Synergy is a tight and eminently creative unit, and the several guestless tracks here are every bit as worthwhile as the "star features. Still, closing out with a jaunty Brannon/S duet seems the ideal way to wrap up such a multicolored package. Highly recommended.
Vision/FYI (for Bob Berg); Gumbo (for New Orleans); String Theory (for Mike Brecker); Scratch; September 28th; Just Like Now; Loose Ends; Later; Parking Space; Dream Sequence; Crosstalk; Harvie
Mike Brannon: guitars; Andy Langham: keyboards; Bill Evans: tenor sax (1,2); Harvie S
(1-3,12), Brandon Rivas (4, 6-11): acoustic bass; Paul Wertico (1-3,11), Gerry Gibbs (4,