Jimmy Bruno. Vic Juris. Corey Christiansen. Three significant and exceedingly talented names on the contemporary Jazz Guitar scene. As individual artists they each have highly respected solo careers that cumulatively span decades of top notch artistry and creative output. However, on this, their first recording as a unit, Bruno, Juris and Christiansen break new ground as they strip down, then rebuild, a set of ten well-established standards from the first note to the last.
As solo artists, each of these master players have interpreted these tunes, either through recordings or live performances, in their own unique way. Yet on MB3: Jazz Hits Volume 1, they literally go beyond what they have done before and boldly go where no one has gone before.
Case in point is the almost ubiquitous Miles Davis tune “All Blues”. I’ve heard many a musician and group play this tune a thousand times or more, and while I have heard some interesting readings, I’ve never heard it played the way the MB3 handle it. They rework the tune like it’s their own composition, complete with slinky down-home slide playing, on a bluesy acoustic resonator guitar (Dobro), courtesy of Christiansen, while Bruno and Juris add some harmonic flavor to the oft-played head. They each take notable solos over a reoccurring bass/guitar groove that keeps the tune unyielding and in the pocket. Bassist Jay Anderson and Drummer Danny Gotlieb deserve just as much credit for keeping the tune tight and grooving as everyone else concerned.
The remaining nine tunes in this session follow suit as Bruno, Juris and Christiansen reconstruct the harmonic and melodic core of each tune. Sometimes so much so that I’m surprised they haven’t been given writing credits. Seriously though, check out Juris’ beautifully reharmonized version of “On Green Dolphin Street” with its moody quality and mellow voicings courtesy of Juris’ DiCarlo nylon string. If not for the familiar melody I would be hard pressed to name this tune. However, Juris’ treatment adds a new dimension to this old established favorite and shows you just how far one can go harmonically without totally trashing what the original writers had intended. I think Washington and Kaper would give Juris a definite thumbs up. Suffice it to say, once you listen to this version you may not hear this tune the same way again. And if I’m not mistaken, the outro features a reference to the Seals and Croft tune “Summer Breeze”…at least to me anyway. Very cool!
Another tune you may not hear the same way again is “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”, arranged here by Christiansen. The MB3 cats take this tune through its paces as they start off with a slow grooving, three chord rock-like intro ala Mike Stern’s take on “??” from his Standards CD. Some nice volume swells as well mix in with the groove before the harmonized melody makes its way into the land of the familiar. The tune then opens up for solos from all three guitarists with some very interesting note choices coming from each of them. The outro features some hot overdriven soloing that would make a hard-core rock fan smile.
And for those who like this “rockin’” version, the last tune on the CD, “Killer Joe” follows in a similar vein as the tune opens with an almost “Taking Care of Business” feel as a two chord vamp is laid down via power barre chords. Each player gets some hip solos in, with some slightly overdriven bluesy lines making their way through a chorus or two. The hand claps at the end of the tune add a nice touch of fun and camaraderie and a great way to end the session.
An added bonus to this exceptional CD is that Christiansen, Bruno and Juris get to showcase their talents not only as players but as arrangers, with each of them contributing at least three arrangements. Christiansen gets to arrange “Solar”, “Cantaloupe Island”, “All Blues” and “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” while Bruno arranges “Impressions”, “Freedom Jazz Dance” and “Milestones”. Vic Juris shines on Horace Silver’s “Peace”, “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Killer Joe”. Overall, a very talented bunch indeed.
As can be expected, this CD features some chop heavy playing by all concerned. Surprisingly though, there seems to be little, if any, covetous competitiveness. Rather, each player complements the other, staying true to the principles of less is more. This is especially evident in the supportive role that Jay Anderson and Danny Gotlieb provide. They both contribute a stead-fast rhythm section that caters to both the tunes and to the fact that there are three awesome players to support. They do however, get to show off their chops briefly throughout a couple of tunes which makes those moments extra special.
MB3: Jazz Hits Volume 1 is a marvelous CD to add to any Jazz Guitar enthusiast’s collection. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys sophisticated music alongside extreme musicianship.And I can’t wait for Volume 2. Enjoy!