With The Wishing Stones (Destiny Records, 2017) New York-based guitarist Tom Guarna released something of a breakthrough album, featuring a prominently cast quartet made up of Brian Blade on drums, John Patitucci on bass and pianist Jon Cowherd. With that album Guarna perfected his personal style of composition, which sees post-bop language taken to more extensive structures filtered through modern sonic production values. Spirit Science picks up where that album left off and delivers another engaging set of modern post-bop extravaganzas performed by another top-tier selection of sidemen.
Most cuts on the record get to the point straight away and find the band engaging with each other confidently, as the opener "The Trion Re" demonstrates. Aaron Parks lays out determined chord blocks on piano, subdividing the six-time in three, while Ben Wendel's sax soars on the theme, in unison with slightly distorted guitar leads. Justin Faulkner's drum work is tight and driven throughout the album but shows enough restraint to let the melodic qualities of the compositions remain at the center and forefront. Guarna reveals that he does not mind shredding in fusion fashion à la John McLaughlin either, but rather proves quite competent in that particular field.
Style and pace shift equally throughout the nine tunes which together clock in at just over an hour. RnB-infused balladic grooves like "Platonic Solids" introduce electronic soundscapes to the record, brought in by Parks on Fender Rhodes and Guarna switching to a more synthesized electric guitar tone. The title track on the other hand works in direct contrast to that notion and finds Guarna on acoustic guitar, taking on a more chordal approach in a bossa nova-themed exercise which feels quite new to the Guarna-Songbook and suits his playing well.
The scientific theme enveloping Spirit Science isn't expressed through title or the geometrical shapes gracing the cover artwork (water painting by Cameron Mizeli) alone. Guarna's knack for odd meters, their balanced dispersion across the instruments, and continuous shifts fit into the thematic concept and can be heard on several cuts, which disclose this notion by way of their titles. "Two Circles" is introduced by a simple plucked guitar pattern counted in six. Syncopation playfully tosses the bars around but doesn't change the meter before the entire count of the composition shifts to a nine time. Similar sleights of hand are found on "The Genesis Pattern," whose opening piano chords allude to a six time before the band joins in on a half-time feel in 4 only to immediately drop into a fast-paced 5 time. Surely complex gimmicks that are impressive on their own, but what really stands out is the ease with which the band interpret the time-trades and elegantly walk the melodies through the bars.
Spirit Science is another fabulous entry into Guarna's discography as well as a distinguished addition to the canon of mainstream, modern jazz guitar records; it may not belong among the most paradigm-shifting styles out there, but when executed in this way guarantees a satisfying hour of terrific musicianship and emotional engagement.
The Trion Re; Platonic Solids; The Genesis Pattern; Spirit Science; Two Circles; A Reflection in a Reflection
(for Kofi Burbridge); Metatron's Cube; Source; Lullyaby for Lena.
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