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Just about every new jazz guitarist who comes down the road cites Wes Montgomery as an influence. For once, on Jim Robitaille's To Music, you can hear it in the fluid grace, the slight bite in the tone. But the set isn't retro in any way; To Music has an unmistakable modern sound based on the guitarist's strikingly well-crafted songs and forward-looking arrangements.
Of the nine songs offered here, no less than three are award-winners (from the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition and the Great American Song Contests): "Arthur C," "Miro," and "Lost and Found." And apparently those people giving out the awards know a great tune when they hear one. Without exception, every song on the disc brims with very satisfying depth, based (among other things) on intriguing leading chord progressions.
The band, a quintet featuring piano and sax (tenor and soprano) in front of a bass/drum rhythm section and alongside Robitaille's guitar, drifts between a tight groove mode and a freer flexible flow as well as anybody out there, sounding like the child of the veteran groove-oriented Yellowjackets and the freer, dark-hued sound of the newcomers Andy McWain Quartet ( Starfish, Fuller St. Music, '03).
To Music is a highly polished, well-crafted set that benefits greatly from Robitaille's arranging skills, especially his weave of guitar/piano. It's got to be on the short list of debuts of the year.