Every once in a while it happens. You never know when. You never who its going to be. Listening to a lot of music increases the odds. Still, one can go a stretch before experiencing that "moment." Hats off to Danish guitarist Uffe Steen
for providing such a treat for the ear and for the human psyche. Retroscope
is the latest project from the veteran blues/jazz/why put a label on it, left-handed guitarist (he plays a right-handed guitar upside down). He is joined here by drummer Jesper Bo Knudsen and double bassist Thomas Sejthen
"A Call From the Sixties" is answered by the Steen trio with bell bottoms, peace signs, and a black light woven into an acid trip with the sounds and sights of Austin Powers
, Go-Go dancers, and the British Revolution. The groovy swing rides the waves with a fretboard in place of surfboard. The far-out scene is encapsulated from the first hit, through space, and into the moon landing. Stellar playing, no doubt, from the fab three, but this robust Steen composition is all about fun. A road trip for the mind.
Slowing down a bit, as if there was another direction to go, Steen addresses the fretboard as his personal play toy. He takes it down inside the burning chambers, and like a cat with a mouse, is in complete control of the moment. Vibrant tonality highlights the Steen penned "Reggaedit." Active from start to finish, Knudsen and Sejthen stir in layers of depth that most notably broaden the piece without impeding Steen's free for all.
Steen takes us on a healthy walk through the park with his "Walkon." A relaxed yet energized stroll is replete with the sights, sounds, and feelings of such a pleasant day's journey. Knudsen and Sejthen's groove is measured keenly by Steen in making every note selection as purposeful as it is well placed.
The title track, "Retroscope," is indeed representative of the collective nature, soul, and symmetry of this record. Steen's compositional prowess and his guitar skills rise to a mountain top intersect in this finely-crafted piece of work. Knudsen's brushes and Sejthen's lines are crisply danced and glided upon by Steen in almost hypnotic fashion. The essence of a uniquely talented jazz guitarist is on display here. Together it is a calmly spectacular trio performance.
Melodic sensibilities come to the fore with Steen's innovative "Skovbrynet." The melody is turned inside out and examined from other angles and perspectives. Steen is relentlessly unbridled, but as always, plays it cool. The fireworks are aplenty. You have to look and feel inside to absorb them. With abandonment of their own at play, the rhythm section then inverts the melody back to start anew.
Again, empowered by a tight, yet active, rhythm section, Steen reaches into that pocket and pulls out glorious highs. The notes are somewhat astonishing in themselves, but it's the placement that takes it over the top in Steen's "Junkie."
Knudsen's brushes lay it down "So Easy" that Steen just lets go with skills that can't be taught. Steen has a touch, an element perhaps, that is all his own. Others may feel it, but few can express it at this level.
If music is intended to make you happy, to feel an inner joy, or simply to make you feel good, then Steen's "Sweet Little Newborn" is a first-class piece of art. His guitar smiles and beams throughout a breezy upbeat cadence spiritedly provided by Knudsen and Sejthen.
The final Steen composition, entitled "Moon Glow MK II," has Sejthen a bit heavier on bass and a driving beat for Steen to springboard off of. His fire smolders as if inside a volcano. There are eruptions, but again the intensity of the fire is at the apex. The tune gives him many options and directions to turn. He blazes through them all, without need of a frenzy. A controlled burn has more substance.
Having left you with a barn burner, Steen opted to close the festivities with the only tune on the record that he didn't compose. Jimmy Van Heusen's "Darn that Dream" is given a makeover. An inspired bass solo by Sejthen is a highlight, as iare Knudsen's brushes revisited. But again, it is Steen that pulls out the heavy artillery. It is with delicacy and nuance that Steen honors the Van Heusen song. His note selections tell the story in a charismatic manner. An ambient take, that wraps up the nine Steen compositions nicely.
A guitarist of virtuosic levels brought his special kind of magic to this project. A guitar lovers dream, for sure. But a record to cherish for anyone who appreciates thoughtful musicianship at its highest level.
A Call From the Sixties MK II; Reggaedt; Walkon; Retroscope; Skovbrynet; Junkie; So Easy; Sweet Little Newborn; Moon Glow
MK II; Darn That Dream.