"With strings" jazz albums should carry a warning sticker: "This might sound like elevator music." Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown got the genre rolling, and their strings records show that it’s easier to elude the elevator music allegation if you’re a horn player. The insistent attack of a brass or wind instrument often contrasts nicely with a string section, whereas a guitar tends to blend in like wallpaper, its soft tones lulling you to sleep.
Guitarist Royce Campbell walks right into the elevator music trap by packing this CD with ballads. "Waltz for Debbie" and a medium swing reading of "I Concentrate on You" are the sole exceptions. "Estate," a slow bossa nova, isn’t technically a ballad, but it’s so mellow that in this context it qualifies as one. Even the two Campbell originals, "Moon Cycle" and "I Feel Like We Have Met Before," are ballads, and the latter sounds an awful lot like "A Time for Love."
Campbell was Henry Mancini’s guitarist for nineteen years. Carroll DeCamp, who arranged and conducted the tunes on this disc, is Campbell’s uncle. These people know what they’re doing, and so do the sidemen: pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Lynn Seaton, and drummer Mark Wolfley. Campbell’s tone on the Benedetto archtop is superbly rich and round, and Hersch’s piano solos light up every track on which they appear. And most of the tunes are good ones: It’s always a pleasure to hear "But Beautiful," "A Time for Love," "This Is All I Ask," and even the overplayed "Body and Soul," which begins here with an unusual cello/bass accompaniment. But the ballad-heavy program becomes monotonous and, thanks to the strings, a little syrupy. Campbell could have added zest and variety by featuring more chord-solo passages like the one heard during "A Time for Love," or by doing more of the kind of inspired blowing heard on the fadeout of "Waltz for Debbie."
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