After having established himself amongst the leading modern Jazz-guitar voices with remarkably ambitious 2014 release Rush
, Brooklyn-Born Tom Guarna
returns leading an all-star quartet comprised of drummer Brian Blade
, bassist John Patitucci
and pianist John Cowherd
on the inspired The Wishing Stones
, sonically carrying forth what had defined the last record. While Rush
saw Guarna leaving a comfort-zone which characterized previous releases, The Wishing Stones
finds the guitarist building upon the modern guitar sounds and compositional structures, further developing the fusion-style and presenting more mature compositions. Where some highly technical arpeggios and off-branching themes had seemed misplaced on its predecessor, time has taught the already veteran guitarist more on the art of restraint, making this venture an outstanding demonstration of his skills as a composer, musician and innovator.
The opener is of somewhat teasing character: a warm guitar tone plays elegant lines in unison with piano over a calm harmonic progression, producing a mysterious atmosphere. Are we back in our comfort zone? The negation of that question follows immediately in "Song for Carabello." A tight 7/8 is established by stomping piano chords on the one, three, five and early seven while drum patterns constantly alternate, adding clever polyrhythmic layers. After a short introduction of the melody from a crying synth-guitar the song is put on hold, deconstructed by sharp digging into the piano keys on every beat. The 7/8 is then reestablished, though rhythmically and melodically transformed. The musicians subsequently alternate at soloing, Guarna naturally taking the lead with most impressive fluidity.
In the course of the album Guarna constantly switches up his guitar sound, alternating between a warmer treble-and attack-low tone and more modern synth-oriented timbres, reminiscent of some of his contemporaries such as Jonathan Kreisberg or Kurt Rosenwinkel
. It becomes clear his choice of tone isn't arbitrary or based on impulse but rather the logical and fitting next step, based on pace, harmonic structure and color of the piece in question; not meaning that every slower paced ballad gets the standard treatment, with "Moment=Eternity" being the perfect example of the contrary. After a long and sparsely arranged build-up carried by intimate conversations between all involved, the double bass shines with a striking monologue (the miraculous production responsible for half the beauty here) before it gives way to a dexterously executed solo from Guarna, highlighted by the low attack and late release of his guitar sound, bubbling up a waterfall while the quartet gathers a quiet storm in a dynamic build-up.
As a final comparison to its predecessor, the outstanding production of The Wishing Stones
deserves mention as well. While exciting and quite innovative, Rush
at times suffered from ill-placed arrangements, the piano in particular often feeling off and not integrated into the whole. Here on the other hand, the depth of the room fits the music perfectly and the distribution of the instruments in it is adequate, resulting in stunning clarity.
While maybe not quite as daring, the success lies within the smoothness and coherence that is The Wishing Stones
Prelude; Song for Carabello; Surrender Song; Hope; Moment = Eternity; Unravel; Modules; The Wishing Stones; Deacon; Run Signal; Native Tongue.
Tom Guarna: guitar; Jon Cowherd: piano, Fender Rhodes; John Patitucci: upright bass; Brian Blade: drums.