Frank Gambale, early Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) whiz-kid and longtime guitarist in the Chick Corea
Elektric Band, is known for his sweep- picking technique, fretboard virtuosity, and penchant for fusion jazz. But with his 2006 outing, Natural High
(Wombat Records), and now 2010's Natural Selection
, Gambale has shown off a more straight-ahead style that wonderfully couples his technical artistry with a focused, melodic swing.
Aided on Natural Selection
by the superb pianist, Otmaro Ruiz
, and the equally interesting Alain Caron
on bass, this trio really cooks, flexing its improvisational muscles on extended solos that show off not only individual players' harmonic creativity but the dynamic interplay between soloist and backing unit. The opening track, "Teaser," is chock-full of tasty solos and precision artistry while never losing the pulsing rhythm.
On the tracks like "Smog Eyes" and "In From Somewhere" (yes, a play on the Green/Heyman standard "Out of Nowhere") there is a nod to the sounds of classic '50s guitarists like Tal Farlow. Maybe it's Gambale's crisp, rapid lines, maybe it's the comping styles in the drummer-less format, maybe the upbeat and open arrangements, but taken together these tracks feel pleasingly reminiscent of that classic sound. And Gambale really stretches out on these tracks with moving, imaginative solos.
Especially interesting on these tunes is Ruiz's assertive piano. His solos incorporate an endless creative energy. And Caron's bass masterfully carries the weight of the trios rhythmic structure throughout this album but particularly shines on the upbeat tracks. Additionally, the trio moves into the smooth jazz realm on tracks like "Gioa" and "Gambashwari," both of which incorporate a light percussion and more world-music vibe. Although these tunes are well done, they sometimes teeter close to dissipating the energy created on the more upbeat numbers.
Taken as a whole, Natural Selection covers a varied musical territory but really excels on the more straight-ahead, classic-sounding tracks. Throughout, though, the musicianship is wonderful and the soloists are always interesting. Gambale's style is marvelously flexible in the driving swing on most of this CD and in being so, adds a more melodic sensibility. The Darwinian album title is apt as Gambale's stylistic variations more than survive the musical environment of this albumthey thrive.