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Guitarist Pete McCann has gathered a beautiful assortment of songs and assembled one heck of a choice quartet to interpret them on this admirable disc. McCann is a big-eared, big-toned player who has served quality time with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Bobby Previte, John Patitucci, Kenny Wheeler and other modern jazz stars. He and bassist John Hebert are also members of the contemporary quintet Fundementia (whose albumA Whole Nother Storyis reviewed in the Fusion section this month). McCann devotes as much attention to tone quality and emotion as he does the technical aspects of performance, resulting in music of appreciable character.
Eight of the ten selections here are McCann originals. The first track is a relaxed pseudo-blues with an unusual chordal and harmonic structure that exemplifies McCann’s eclectic approach to jazz. His guitar style is hard to pigeonhole, a blend of many influences from Metheny to Jim Hall but enslaved to none of them. No matter what form of song the band tackles, McCann and his mates exhibit suitable refinement in their interpretations. He likes to have fun with song titles and the inspirations behind them, as evidenced by track #3, a “musical vision of one of (artist Jackson Pollock’s) ‘drip paintings’.” The note placement is regularly spaced, yet definitely off the rhythmic path defined by Hebert and drummer Mike Sarin. Saxophonist Peter Epstein burns steadily on this track and the cheerfully rocking #5, titled after the nickname of McCann’s oldest son. #9 is in the spirit of Ornette Coleman, and is fittingly a jagged feature for Epstein’s alto. #6 is a sort of warped tango inspired by the media circus of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. McCann plays cool, crystalline acoustic guitar on the lovely #8, the sole ballad of the collection. The last track is a peaceful homage to the members of America’s military, its melody almost country-flavored.
Bassist Steve Swallow’s Falling Grace is one of the two non-original tunes here. Swallow seems to be finally getting his due as a composer; new renditions of his Eiderdown and Peau Douce pop up frequently, and this pretty theme is itself deserving of more attention. McCann again performs on acoustic guitar, an apt choice for such a fragile, lacy melody. Cole Porter’s I Love You receives perhaps the strangest treatment here. An unusual minor intro in 3/4 time precedes the theme, and Hebert’s bass keeps that feeling alive behind the theme for several more bars.
Pete McCann is an exceedingly perceptive player with the good sense to approach songs in a way that befits their basic character, and the creativity to make something fresh out of those songs at the same time.
Track Listing: Knew Blues; You Remind Me Of Someone; Pollock; Falling Grace; Mr. Fritters; Inquisition; I Love You; Letting Go; Ornery; The Patriot.
Personnel: Pete McCann, electric and acoustic guitars; Peter Epstein, alto and soprano saxophones; John Hebert, acoustic bass; Mike Sarin, drums and percussion.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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