Nylon-string acoustic guitars don't crop up in jazz all that often, but when they do the results can be delightful. Below I discuss two very different albums which incorporate that distinctive sound. The Beauty of Differences Misfitme
Jean Chaumont's album The Beauty of Differences
bogs down in the middle in an unfortunate burst of worthy-mindedness but is otherwise entertaining and full of promise.
Chaumont recorded the album for the Misfitme label, which "stipulates that each release have a service component." For Chaumont, the stipulation "means devoting album proceeds to the nonprofit organization Villages in Partnership." Worthy, to be sure, though one might argue that all good music performs an essential "service" by adding beauty to the world. The record's cover, which depicts two hands fusing into a white dove, gives a touch of Cronenbergian body horror to what seems intended to be a symbol of unity. Given the theme of inclusiveness, one wonders why the poor extremities don't merge into a black crow or a pink flamingo, but I suppose that's nitpicking.
Joking aside, nothing is wrong with a "worthy" concept per se unless it impinges on the music. For most of the album, which is devoted to fusion-tinged songs full of ascending chord sequences and smooth time-signature shifts, it doesn't. The instrumentation is largely acoustic (no fender bass or Rhodes piano here) and the mood questing rather than wonky or techno-futurist. In short, it's fusion for jazzbos skeptical of the genre and it works beautifully. Chaumont's melodies are catchy, the arrangements have plenty of air, and everyone solos and performs at a high level. Rudy Royston
's driven and technical but always musical drumming is a special treat in this context. Some of the titles nod to the album's "theme": "Renewed Perspective," "For Each One of Them," and "Marathon of Love" (which really should be the name of a Barry White jam), but if the songs' monikers were changed to the names of planets, girlfriends, or favorite pizza joints, the listener would be unlikely to notice any discrepancy.
The project takes a hairpin turn, however, on the fourth number"Prayer for Creation," an old hymn with re-worked lyrics that vocalist Tierney Sutton
can't save from ponderous piousness. Two tunes later, Vinod Gnanaraj's vocalizing on the title track again sends the album off course, though half of the performance returns to the fusion-mold as if part of an entirely different (and more enjoyable) composition. It's not that Sutton or Gnanaraj can't singit's just that their contributions don't make sense in the larger context of the album. The Beauty of Differences
shows Chaumont has a real knack for acoustic fusion. Here's hoping his next effort is vocal and metacarpal-morphing free. Kreisberg Meets Veras New for Now Music
2018 Jonathan Kreisberg
plays electric guitar, Nelson Veras
acoustic nylon-string. Kreisberg meets Veras
shows how much magic two musicians with twelve strings between them can conjure in fifty minutes. Kreisberg is panned gently left while Veras is just right of center, but the very different timbres of electric and nylon-string acoustic guitars makes separating their contributions a breeze as their lines intertwine and complement one another. The musicians' interaction is always pleasing and coherent, though just short of telepathic in some of the denser sections. Fingers strum, pluck and fly across frets, but the blowing never descends into self-indulgent technical display and solid musical ideas peer out from the flurry of notes more often than not.
The guitarists play three Kreisberg compositions followed by five carefully curated covers (only "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" seems a bit obvious, with the rendition too clean-limbed and genial for the mood of the song). Kreisberg's contrafact on "You Don't Know What Love Is" (titled simply "Until You Know") and Chick Corea
's "Windows" are lighter in mood and fare better as a result. The delightful "Milagre Dos Peixes" suggests that a whole album of bossa might pay dividends for the two, while "Bye-Ya" is the only time on the album where one wishes for a forceful drummer to give the rhythm more kick.
The album winds up nicely with Wayne Shorter
's "The Face on the Barroom Floor," an obscure tune from Weather Report
's penultimate album and a bit of a comer in the modern jazz repertoire (Branford Marsalis
and Joey Calderazzo
do a harder-edged version on Songs of Mirth and Melancholy
that is well worth seeking out). This tune includes Kreisberg's only obvious use of an effects pedal (it works nicely in context) on an album whose sound-world is consistent but never claustrophobic.
Tracks and Personnel The Beauty of Difference
Tracks: Renewed Perspective; Audrey's Code; Delaware and Raritan; Prayer for Creation; This One is For You; The Beauty of Differences; For Each One of Them; PPCB; Marathon of Love.
Personnel: Jean Chaumont: guitar, composer; Michael Bond: piano, Rhodes; Sam Sadigursky: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ike Sturm: bass; Rudy Royston: drums; Tierney Sutton: vocals (Tracks 1 & 4); Vinod Gnanaraj: vocals (Track 6). Kreisberg Meets Veras
Tracks: Lina Rising; Until You Know; Every Person is a Story; Bye-Ya; Milagre Dos Peixes; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; Windows; Face on the Barroom Floor.
Personnel: Jonathan Kreisberg: Electric Guitar; Nelson Veras: Nylon String Acoustic Guitar.