When you listen to a lot of recordings by younger jazz musicians, you're not surprised to hear great chops. The music schools and conservatories are steadily turning out highly polished, technically accomplished performers who can mimic the full gamut of jazz styles. What you seldom hear, though, is an original voice. That's why the new album by the Steven Kirby Quartet is such a treat.
Although Pat Metheny is obviously the major influence on Kirby, the Boston-based guitarist (not really such a kid, with 15 years of professional experience behind him) has an intense, darkly melodic sound that is very much his own. While his compositions tend towards the melancholic and introspectivethough with none of the ethereal, New Age overtones that can sometimes make Metheny a borehe can also swing mighty hard. And there is hardly a cliched lick or hackneyed phrase to be heard on this very adventurous album.
The nine original songs on Point of Balance range from the quiet impressionism of "Dawn" and "An Ever Fixed Mark," to the high energy of "Forest Road" and the title tune, where Kirby proves his facility with speedy solo runs. But Kirby is not one for hogging the spotlight (which makes him a rarity among electric guitarists). He gives plenty of solo space to the rest of the groupactually two separate, equally fine groups. Among the standout performers on hand are bassist Harvie Swartz, drummer George Schuller, and a pair of terrific pianists, Bevan Manson and Bennet Paster.