John Basile: Amplitudes – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

What do you get when you combine one man, three guitars, an iPhone and a whole heap of talent? An outstanding CD of music by the remarkable New York Jazz Guitarist John Basile!

With his latest CD appropriately titled Amplitudes, Basile has crafted a superb session of twelve great tunes that feature his no-nonsense arranging, comping and improvisational skills. The difference this time around from his previous recordings is twofold. The first being that he’s essentially playing solo, but with the help of an overdub or two, or three. And the second difference being that all twelve tracks on the CD, are courtesy of an iPhone app. As Basile states in his own words:

“With the iPhone revolutionizing our pop-culture, I thought why not use it and see where it takes me? Remarkably, its extreme portability allows any artist, anytime, an immediate creative palette for ideas whenever the mood strikes; the ultimate in immediate musical gratification and the opportunity to never again lose a great idea because of time or circumstance.”

Of course jazz is all about the individual as technology cannot replace an artist’s creative spark or depth of talent, only complement it. Basile addresses this as well when he states:

“For a real “jazz” palette to exist, it’s important that no tool limit creative flow or true improvisational spirit, and that’s where this current technology assimilated itself perfectly into my workflow.”

Basile seems to take this to heart as his jazz palette is fully extended to include a wide range of guitaristic and harmonic devices that foster both his creative and improvisational spirit. Tunes like Moon River, My Funny Valentine, Stolen Moments, “I’ve Told Every Little Star” and Some Other Time, benefit by Basile’s use of technology, instilling a more contemporary feel and tone into each one. As an example, the slight overdriven melody on My Funny Valentine gives it a modern tweak that works nicely without obscuring the well-known head. Don’t let this scare you off though as the remainder of the tunes are played pretty much straight forward with just some slight effects processing on a few for taste.

And speaking of taste, John Basile has plenty of it to spare as his comping and improvisational proficiency can be compared to the likes of Steve Khan, Larry Coryell, Howard Alden, Peter Bernstein and his good friend John Abercrombie, who he pays tribute to by recording Abercrombie’s Ralph’s Piano Waltz.

As for Basile’s guitar playing, whether he’s comping four to the bar or blowing a cool solo, his style is an appealing blend of past and present with a definite nod at times to the more modern side of things. Check out his original composition First Row for a glimpse into his post-modernistic mind as there “…is literally a 12 tone row in which 7 tracks of free improvisation were improvised, one track over another.” This is definitely a one-off arrangement and is an interesting variation from the rest of the album.  Quite the head turner!

The remaining tunes are also indicative of Basile’s desire to focus on some of the more modern classics in Jazz. Tunes like the aforementioned Abercrombie song, Ralph Towner’s Celeste, Jobim’s Fotographia and Sean Smith’s Homesick alongside You’re As Right As Rain by Bell and Creed and Bernstein’s Some Other Time help to blend the ever popular with lesser known tunes. Basile has even included a beautiful tune by Jane Herbert titled It’s Nice To Be With You, but you may know her simply as Jim Hall’s wife. Definitely a nice selection all around, and one that has introduced this listener to a few new composers who I might not have otherwise known.

What also interests me is how Basile laid down the rhythm tracks as the sound of the overdubbed guitar parts sound almost organic in nature. If I didn’t know that he was playing off his own tracks I would have assumed that there were actually two separate guitar voices at work as the musical exchanges between each guitar sound immediate and truly in the moment.

As I close out this review, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sound of this CD. I am by far no audiophile, but on my home stereo system this CD sounds remarkable given the source of the recoding. The sonic quality is crystal clear with each guitar sounding bright and full as one might expect from a high-end recording studio. As such, Basile’s Tom Doyle Custom Jazz Guitar, Godin Classical or Jarrett Steel String, sound rich and nicely up in the mix when needed. If this is what can be accomplished with just an iPhone app, I’m definitely excited to hear what more can come out of such a simple setup.

For those fans or students interested in Jazz Guitar I would urge you to check out John Basile as a performer and recording artist. I’ve known of him since the mid ‘80’s and have never once been disappointed in what I’ve heard. Thanks John!

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