Shan Arsenault: The Jazz Beat Sessions – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Canada has given the Jazz Guitar Community some wonderful players over the years. Ed Bickert, Lorne Lofsky, Reg Schwagger, Bill Coon, Oliver Gannon, Mike Rud, Greg Clayton, Warren Greig, Brian Hughes, and others, have all graced the musical landscape both domestically and internationally as popular representatives of great Jazz Guitar playing. Now a new name can be added to this illustrious list of Canadian Jazz Guitar talent: Shan Arsenault.

With the recent release of his debut CD Shan Arsenault: the Jazz Beat Sessions, the Halifax based Arsenault steps into the Jazz Guitar arena in fine form as he demonstrates a keen sense of trio interplay, musical acumen and improvisational ability that stands alongside the aforementioned jazz pickers. Intense solos, sinuous technique, thoughtful comping, and well crafted catchy tunes speak volumes of Arsenault’s sensibility as an improviser and composer. From the haunting opening track “Comeback“, to the delicate “Suspense” and the frenzied “That Something”, Arsenault throws all that he has into the musical pot with an intensity and enthusiasm that is both refreshing and gratifying to the ear.

Each of the nine tunes on the CD, seven originals and two standards, showcase Arsenault’s talent as a composer and a player juxtaposing his rock and jazz influences into a single voice that is unabashedly original. Hammer-ons, pull-offs, slurred notes, blazing single lines, stirring chords, great tone, and a fluid legato style make up the meat of Arsenault’s improvisational style. A style that is void of guitaristic clichés and improvisational formulas. Even when playing through the standard changes of “What’s New” and “Confirmation”, Arsenault sticks to his musical intuitiveness preferring to rely solely on the moment rather than playing it safe, which is what the art of improvisation is truly all about. Check out the outro solo on Arsenault’s “Call It Love” and the intro to “That Something” for a good example of this or “The Spin” where the interplay between the trio hangs just left of free. Great stuff!

And speaking of the trio, bassist Jamie Gatti and drummer Tom Roach along with guest drummer Dave Burton, who appears on the first four tunes, provide tremendous support and inspiring musicianship alongside Arsenault. In fact, the sound is so huge that I sometimes forgot that it was a trio. Just check out Gatti’s take on “Confirmation” as he takes the head and gets some great solo space or his sensitive electric fretless playing on “Suspense” or his acoustic bass soloing on “Fiddlehead”. Some really wonderful playing going on here. And drummers Roach and Burton offer the same quality of musicianship as they swing and propel the music far beyond the call of duty. I especially liked Burton’s use of cymbals and high hat through out each tune, particularly on “Fiddlehead” and Roach’s playing on “The Spin” is just superlative as is his playing on all the other tunes he’s on. They really are a bunch of impressive players and I would be surprised if I didn’t hear more about them in the near future.

The same goes for Shan Arsenault. He definitely is a player that deserves wider recognition and I hope it won’t be long before his name is brought up alongside the more popular of Canada’s jazz guitar players. Whether you are a fan of Jazz Guitar or merely a fan of great jazz music, Shan Arsenault: the Jazz Beat Sessions should be a definite addition to your music collection.

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