The old maxim of “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a most potent sentiment and one that I almost found myself failing to heed…gratefully though, I didn’t.
A while back I received an album by Jazz Guitarist Jacques Lesure who I knew about from his Facebook discussions. The moment I pulled the CD from its protective mailing envelope I immediately thought “oh great! Another smooth jazz guy! (not that there’s anything wrong with that)” The cover of the CD featured a smiling Jacques Lesure wearing a white shirt on a white background, guitar in hand. It was sparse and simple and as I turned the CD over there was an image of a beautiful smiling woman, Jacques guitar in hand looking like she was being taught a chord as a smiling Jacques had his hand on hers. “Too sappy!” I thought as I placed the CD down amongst a pile of other unlistened CD’s. Also, the title of the CD – When She Smiles – sounded to me like it would be filled with sugary love songs that while probably good, wouldn’t be of interest to me musically (sorry Jacques).
A few days later, and after reading a few more Facebook posts from Jacques, something didn’t jive with me so I went back to the CD and slapped it into the CD player. Well…as the kids say today…”My Bad!!” because out of the speakers came this wonderful music that swung hard and strong. Tunes by Sonny Rollins (“Sonnymoon For Two”), Horace Silver (“Gregory is Here”), Miles Davis (“Blue In Green”) and other time-honored standards (“Time After Time”, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”, “Grooveyard”, “Without A Song”, “I Remember You”) were showcased with a swing and stylistic resonance that brought me back to the hard bop era of the 50’s that I love so much. And not only that…this cat can PLAY!
As a keeper of the flame, Jacques Lesure carries on the classic tradition of Jazz Guitar and Jazz in general that can be found on those classic Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Calvin Keyes, George Benson and Grant Green sides. His guitar tone is warm and full, while his comping and lines are steeped in the above mentioned player styles without sounding plagiaristic or washed out. Bluesy, soulful and straight-ahead is the order of the day when it comes to what Jacques puts out musically.
Now, is he breaking new ground? No. But there’s nothing in the Jazz Guitar Players Handbook that states that he needs to! He’s playing the music that he loves – which in my book – is just as important! The rest of the cats in his band also seem to share the same fervor for this music. Pianist Eric Reed, Bassist Mike Gurrola and the swing-meister himself, drummer Willie Jones III provide the right musical environment for Jacques’ nod to those who came before him.
As mentioned, this band swings hard and each of their performances – whether comping or soloing – is a testament to their capacity to channel their respective influences while staying true to the overall feel of the music.
And speaking of the music, while this CD is made up largely of known standards, Jacques does get to stretch out his skills at composing with the original title track. The ¾ time rhythmic guitar intro feel reminds me of Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” before the band gently immerse themselves into the tune, giving the song time to breathe and open up before Jacques lays down the melody. I’m not sure if Jacques has anymore originals to record, but hopefully he does, ’cause this first tune is a huge step in the right direction.
Oh…and if you are wondering about the title of the tune “When She Smiles”, well to paraphrase Jacques, it’s his way of knowing that all is right in his world – and theirs – when the women he cares for and loves are smiling.
So, if you’re looking for a new Jazz Guitarists to discover, or if you just want to listen to some great music interpreted by a group of top-shelf players, I would definitely advise picking up this album. You never know, chances are Mr. Lesure’s playing will have you smiling as well!
Head on over to www.jacqueslesure.com to see what else Jacques has to offer.