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Album Review

Randy Napoleon: Rust Belt Roots: Randy Napoleon Plays Wes Montgomery, Grant Green & Kenny Burrell


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Randy Napoleon: Rust Belt Roots: Randy Napoleon Plays Wes Montgomery, Grant Green & Kenny Burrell
One's response to jazz—indeed, to music of any kind—most often depends on where he or she is coming from. To erase any doubts about where he is coming from, guitarist Randy Napoleon has subtitled his album, Rust Belt Roots, "Plays Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell." This is music born of a Midwestern ethos: Indianapolis (Montgomery), St. Louis (Green), Detroit (Burrell). Napoleon called Michigan home before moving to New York City in 1999, and has never forgotten the enormous impact his esteemed forerunners had in that area of the country as well as around the world.

Of course, if one is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with giants he'd best have chops sturdy enough to prevent any loss of balance. Napoleon has that possibility covered with room to spare. He clearly has done his homework, and not only swings as hard as his musical heroes but matches them note-for-note when it comes to creative improvising. He plays guitar as it should be played, cleanly and melodically, leaving no unpleasant after-taste in listeners' ears as is too often the case with those who seem to be playing the instrument for their personal satisfaction alone.

To brighten his homage, Napoleon uses two admirable rhythm sections, one of which (Rick Roe, piano; Paul Keller, bass; Sean Dobbins, drums) performs on nine tracks, the other (Xavier Davis, piano; Rodney Whitaker, bass; Quincy Davis, drums) on four. Napoleon plays the last selection, a reprise of his waltz "The Man Who Sells Flowers," solo. Green and Burrell each wrote three numbers, Wes Montgomery two, Buddy Montgomery one, Napoleon the other five. As would be expected, most everything is bop-and/or blues-based, and tempos are generally brisk to burning. Exceptions are "Flowers" and Burrell's lovely "Listen to the Dawn."

Wes Montgomery's "S.O.S." sets the swinging compass, one that is mirrored on Napoleon's "When They Go," Green's "Grant's Tune," Buddy Montgomery's "Beaux Arts" and two more by Green, "Jean de Fleur" and gospel-themed "Sunday Mornin.'" Wes Montgomery wrote "Doujie," Burrell "The Tender Gender" and "Lyresto," Napoleon the bluesy "Wes Like" (on which he sounds a lot like Montgomery). A radiant tribute to a trio of jazz luminaries, adeptly performed by Napoleon and his talented colleagues.

Track Listing

S.O.S.; When They Go; Grant's Tune; The Man Who Sells Flowers; Beaux Arts; Jean De Fleur; Sunday Mornin'; Doujie; The Tender Gender; The Presence of Fire; Listen to the Dawn; Lyresto; Wes Like; The Man Who Sells Flowers (Solo).


Randy Napoleon: guitar; Xavier Davis: piano; Rodney Whitaker: bass; Quincy Davis: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Rick Roe: piano; Paul Keller: bass; Sean Dobbins: drums.

Album information

Title: Rust Belt Roots: Randy Napoleon Plays Wes Montgomery, Grant Green & Kenny Burrell | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: OA2 Records

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