Rio Crystal is the perfect title for this bright and clear, warm and sunny set led by guitarist Paul Colombo. Its frontline pairs Colombo's nimble guitar with keyboardist Ron Thomas, supported by bassist Andy Alonso and drummer Chris Loser, in a series of jazzy instrumental workouts. It's uncomplicated swing, and the emotional directness and honesty with which the principals play, turn Rio Crystal from jazz fusion into genuine (instrumental) soul music.
The title track was the first tune recorded and sits like a crown atop this set. Colombo nurtures and nuzzles his electric strings through sinewy blues and jazz lines, pulling out from the rich fullness of acoustic strings, and craftily twists the ending of his solo into the beginning of the restated melody. The rhythm section swings the subsequent "This Heart" into an easy shuffle that Thomas' solo steps into like a homerun hitter locked into his baseball swing, connecting solidly with the groove and opening up the classic soul-jazz organ-guitar small combo sound.
"Soul Mates" closes the set with the same type of mellow jazz vibe, which Colombo waltzes like a proper gentleman into a solid, straight-up and straight-ahead Tal Farlow sound.
These two soloists share a long, deep connection. Colombo can still recall the first time he heard Thomas play, when the guitarist was only fifteen and a friend dropped Pat Martino/Live (Muse, 1972), which features Thomas as the keyboard player, on him. Colombo tracked Thomas down and began studying music with him, and they've been colleagues ever since.
Thomas mines his keyboard riff into the propulsive "Motion Potion," the set's only tune that Colombo didn't compose. Bassist Alonso and drummer Loser construct the propulsive yet supportive rhythms, while Colombo plays like a master electrician, running in electric guitar lines that energize their sturdy framework.
The single-take "Lovesick" showcases the leader's singing guitar lines, with Loser's shimmering cymbals and Thomas' cool yet warm keyboard accompaniment heating up the spotlight, then stepping into the background. Columbo's lead guitar absolutely glows as it sings out in a classic Motown sound, the kind you might hear on a vocal ballad by Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. More likely, it's the sound of Philly soul resonating through Rio Crystal.
Rio Crystal; This Heart; Junior; Lovesick; Motion Potion; Wakin' Up; YBB; Soul Mates.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.