For some reason, the guitar is one of those instruments that engender competition. While there are
exceptions, in general if you put two guitarists together, what you'll get is a contest to see who can be louder, who can be faster, who can be more dominant. So, when you get an album where a relative unknown teams up with five more visible players, it's not unreasonable to expect something of a whizzing contest.
Fortunately, while there's plenty of good-spirited jousting on Royce Campbell's Six By Six, it's more a demonstration of how one guitarist can integrate seamlessly with five stylistically diverse players. Rather than being a case of determining who's on top, Campbell has created a celebration of jazz guitar which, while staying within the mainstream, covers a lot of turf by virtue of its rosterwhich ranges from the technical virtuosity of Pat Martino to the traditional leanings of Larry Coryell and Bucky Pizzarelli and the more modernistic approaches of John Abercrombie and Dave Stryker.
Originally recorded for and released by the Japanese Paddlewheel Records in '94, this album is curiously only now seeing the light of day in North America. Why, after enjoying great acclaim in Japan and Europe, it has taken ten years to get released here is a mystery; but for fans of more down-the-centre jazz guitar, the album sounds as fresh as when it was first recorded.
With the exception of three originals from Campbell, the material all comes from familiar territory, although the arrangements are sometimes a little off the beaten path. "Naima gets a light bossa treatment, with Martino as dark-toned and fleet-fingered as always. "Love for Sale, patterned after an arrangement the more acerbic Coryell played with trumpeter Chet Baker, alternates between funky groove and relaxed swing. "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise is taken at a nice clip, with Stryker demonstrating, even at this early stage in his career, a remarkable ability to blend a post bop sensibility with sometimes subtle, other times more in-your-face blue shadings.
The most adventurous moves are with Abercrombie. On Campbell's aptly-titled "Angular Blues things get almost raucous, with Abercrombie kicking on the overdrive and heading for more oblique places. "Day Into Night, another Campbell original, is dark and mysterious, with a spacious ECM vibe.
Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Campbell may not have the name recognition of his associates, but he clearly holds his own with them all, confidently trading fours here, assertively staking his own stylistic space there. An appealing mainstream player, Campbell's career has been most defined by a number of tribute albums to seminal guitarists including Wes Montgomery, Charlie Byrd and Joe Pass.
But while Campbell may not have what it takes to distinguish himself as a player of significance, he's certainly good enough to go head-to-head with his guests on Six By Six. An homage to jazz guitar done with energy and commitment, the long-overdue release of Six By Six in North America rights a longstanding wrong.
Visit Royce Campbell and Independent Music Distribution on the web.