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Mike Neer: Keepin' It Real


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When I last posted on Mike Neer in 2016, he had just released an album called Steelonious, a tribute album to Thelonious Monk performed on the lap steel guitar. What wouldn't seem like a good fit turned out to be a happy marriage. Monk interpreted by Mike on a lap steel guitar gave the music enormous energy and edge. Mike is now back with his steel guitar, only this time his instrument has a Hawaiian punch and a superb collection of jazz standards. In short, Keepin' It Real: Songs From the Real Book is killer.

Here's the backstory from Mike:

“In 2018, I was given a steel guitar that belonged to Sol Hoopii, one of the greatest Hawaiian steel guitar players and one of my heroes. It’s a long story, but I was gifted it from the man who received it from Sol’s widow decades after his passing. When the pandemic struck, I had time to take it out of its case and play it. The sound and feel of the instrument gave birth to my latest project. I created a Hawaiian-style trio (me, myself and I) and invited guest soloists. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out."

The songs are McCoy Tyner's Passion Dance, Oliver Nelson's Stolen Moments, Horace Silver's Peace and Nica's Dream, Wayne Shorter's Witch Hunt, Duke Ellington's African Flower, Clare Fischer's Pensativa and Wes Montgomery's West Coast Blues.

The musicians on the album are Mike Neer (lap steel guitar, ukulele, bass, percussion) Matt King (melodica on Pensativa), Anton Denner (flutes on Stolen Moments), Chris Crocco (guitar on West Coast Blues), Will Bernard (guitar on Witch Hunt), Tom Beckham (vibraphone on Passion Dance and Nica’s Dream), and Ron Oswanski (accordion on Peace).

A gifted artist, Mike has managed to retain the integrity of the guitar's Hawaiian personality while swinging the jazz songs without falling into the luau or lai trap. There's nothing tiki mug or swizzle stick about this album. It swings, the improvisation is first-rate and the sound of the guitar feeds into the sensuality of the melodies. I never once yearned for roast pig, a loud print shirt or a long board. Most of all, the album is proof that any instrument in the right hands can give jazz and jazz standards a fresh, exciting lift. Hoʻohiwahiwa, Mike, on a beautiful album.

Here's Off Minor from Mike Neer's Steelonious...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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