Guitarist Nate Radley has turned in some great sideman performances. On alto saxophonist Loren Stillman's Winter Fruits (Pirouet, 2009), he teamed with organist Gary Versace and drummer Ted Poor for one of that year's more unusualand unusually finerecordings; and in 2010, he joined another intrepid saxophonist, Marc Mommaas, on the modernistic Landmarc, a string-heavy set with fellow guitar slingers Vic Juris, and Rez Abbasi.
The Big Eyes finds Radley debuting in the leader's chair, serving up out an original and forward-looking sound. The set of all original material opens with "Boo," an eerie, medium-heat cooker featuring the guitarist's Winter Fruits employer, Stillman, on alto sax. The mood is atmospheric, gloomy and introspective, carrying over to "January." Stillman's approach is consistently understated, with a smoldering intensity as he moves in a quartet mode, with Fender Rhodes, bass and drums, on "Ascent." Here, and throughout this compelling disc, there's a sense of potential power reigned in for the purposes of exploring the crags and crevasses of Radley's thoughtful compositions.
"Silver Lining" shines brighter than the rest of the set, Radley sending out glowing chords in front of Poor's mischievous jumble of percussion, while "Archipelago" has a pastoral and pensive feeling, leading into the title tune and the disc's highlight, featuring Stillman whispering on alto sax around Radley's nuanced, singe-note ruminations. "Wise River" finds Radley working in trio format with bass and drums, the music flowing at a deliberate and contemplative pace. The tune has a modern folksiness, not unlike some of guitarist Bill Frisell's work.
With The Big Eyes, Radley's move from sideman to leader is an excellent introduction to a rising jazz talent.
Boo, January; Ascent; Silver Lining; Archipelago; The Big Eyes; Wise River; Blue Square; All That's Solid.
Nate Radley: guitar; Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Pete Rende: Fender Rhodes; Matt Pavolka: bass; Ted Poor: drums.
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