Pete McCann is a versatile guitarist with a daunting list of sideman credits: Kenny Wheeler, Maria Schneider, Dave Liebman, Kenny Garrett and many others. Most Folks is his third date as leader. As an artistic statement, it's organized around the notion of sketches, portraits and tributes to "folks" whose lives have intersected with McCann's.
McCann's instrumental voices range from meaty feedback-laden electric soloing ("JM," "Yes My Friend") and low-treble mellowness not far from Wes Montgomery ("About Face," "Worth"). He's also capable of lovely nylon-stringed acoustic solos ("Las Tias," "Third Wheel").
McCann is uniformly proficient, sometimes astonishingly so, and the band (particularly saxophonist John O'Gallagher) is quite strong. But the leader's versatility works at cross-purposes with the record's coherence and integrity. The whole tends to come off as a calling card for his broad range of abilities, and as such is more useful to bandleaders looking for an excellent sideman than for more casual listeners with an interest in a jazz performance. Moreover, McCann's compositions have a kind of elliptical quality that mostly fails to engage the listener.
It is interesting that perhaps the most successful pieces on the record honor two of McCann's guitar heroes: "JM" (for John McLaughlin) and "Worth" (for Allan Holdsworth), a contemplative guitar/bass duet. These numbers work best because the overlap between displaying virtuosic excellence and expressing an artistic idea (in this case, paying tribute to progenitors) is greater than elsewhere on the record.
Otherwise, most of the compositions and performances are focused on displaying McCann's (formidable) technical prowess. The contrast is clear if you compare Most Folks to recent releases by two vastly different pianists, Deidre Rodman and Aaron Goldberg: all three are relatively youthful and have just released their third records as leaders. McCann the soloist could more than hold his own with these two, but unlike Most Folks, the others' releases work as albumsfully-realized performances.
You would be right to expect (more) great things from McCann. For the moment, we are still awaiting a great album.
Most Folks; Jojo's Waltz; Rack 'Em Up; Las Tias; About Face; Yes, My Friend; Hunter Gatherer; JM; Third Wheel; Split Decision; Worth.
Pete McCann: electric guitar, acoustic guitar; John O'Gallagher: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; John Hebert: bass; Mark Ferber: drums, percussion; Mike Holober: piano.