If you could only afford to buy one DVD this year, Rodney Jones: Live at Smoke should definitely be the one. With 2 hours and 25 minutes of jaw-dropping guitar playing, Rodney Jones gives you your money’s worth and so much more. He is the guitarist’s guitarist who seemingly knows no bounds when it comes to single line improvisation and taste.
The intro to “Soup Bone”, a funky/bluesy Jones’ composition, reveals just that as Jones plays an unaccompanied flurry of notes that stream by super fast before he launches into the first tune of the set. What follows is a series of seventeen tunes that transports the audience to a musical event filled with swift lines, extended improvisation, chromatic runs, funky grooves, acoustic splendor, and a healthy serving of Blues infused feel and flavor. “Soup Bone”, “Groove Bone”, “Blues for Smoke”, “Mobius Three” and “Miss B’s Blues”, with a slight nod to Albert Collins, should have you movin’ and groovin’ in no time while tunes like “The Journey Home”, “For Love Alone”, “Serena”, “Day Dreams” and the Bonfa/Jobim tune “Morning of the Carnival” should have you reaching for a loved one for some cuddle time. Definitely a nice selection of tunes and styles with of course, Jones’ penchant for long, extended improvisation. Which brings me to the guitar style of Rodney Jones.
Rodney Jones, at least to me anyway, is the heir apparent to George Benson. In fact, if this DVD had been titled “Weekend in LA 2” I would not have been surprised in the least. This is by no means a slight on Rodney Jones but rather an honest and true high compliment to be sure. George Benson is one of my all-time favorite Jazz Guitarists and “Weekend in LA” is one of my all-time fav Jazz Guitar albums and if Rodney Jones generates the same excitement that I felt listening to “Weekend in LA” as I did while watching “Rodney Jones: Live at Smoke” then more power to him.
Now this is not to say that Jones is copping a bunch of licks from Benson and calling them his own. Rather, it is Benson’s fire and passion that informs Jones’ guitar playing and this feel shines throughout Jones’ performance. Check out the tunes “Island Wind” and “Day Dreams” for a taste of this and don’t miss the guitar tour-de-force “One Turnip Green” where Jones’ just plays and plays his a** off throwing everything into this tune from straight-ahead jazz playing to modern harmonic intuitiveness to Kenny Burrell style blues playing and more. This cat has got technique aplenty and damn if he doesn’t make everything he plays look so easy.
Jones’ technique obviously serves him well which is what makes him an electrifying guitarist to watch and listen to. But it’s also about Jones’ ability to capture the moment within the context of the tune. Whether he’s playing in a funk-jazz-blues bag, or softly and sensitive, Jones gets to the essence of each tune allowing the feel to guide him in the right direction. This ability definitely hits home on the two standards he engages: “Round Midnight” and “Stella by Starlight”.
“Round Midnight” and “Stella by Starlight” are showcases for Jones’ intimacy with the Jazz standard repertoire, and his facility on these tunes speaks volumes about his awareness of the Jazz language tradition, while at the same time adding some of his own personality to the mix. Jones’ chord melody intro to “Round Midnight” is exemplary as is his improvisational ability on both tunes. A job well done indeed!
And speaking of job’s well done, Jones’ band has some great talent to fall back on. Organist Brian Charette, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Ray Marchica all perform at a level comparable to Jones and while this is definitely the guitar players gig, each member gets to shine on a few tunes. Especially fun is the last tune “Soul Makossa” where as soon as the last chord is strummed, Jones whips into a fleet-fingered version of “Oleo”. I am not sure if this was intended but the band kicks into it alongside Jones and we are treated to some serious playing from all concerned. A great way to cap off the set and the DVD.
So if you are a Jazz Guitar fan or player, I highly recommend that you add Rodney Jones: Live at Smoke to your viewing and listening collection. It is an inspiring night of great music and even greater guitar playing. As George Benson states: “Rodney Jones is a legend among musicians, specially guitar players. He is worthy of the ears of any true music lover.” And if that wasn’t enough to make you run to the store to purchase Rodney Jones: Live at Smoke may I remind you that the cute blonde server who originally made an appearance on Peter Bernstein’s Trio “Live at Smoke” is back in fine form…;) ‘Nuff said.