Just when you think you know someone she does a 180 and your world is forever changed!
Okay, that might be a touch dramatic but Mimi Fox, the superb electric Jazz Guitarist from San Francisco via New Jersey, has done a complete 180 on her latest release This Bird Still Flies and has gone all acoustic! “Heavens to Murgatroyd”* you might gasp, but don’t, because Mimi Fox is as magnificent on acoustic as she is navigating through the toughest changes Jazz has to offer. Honestly, if I had never heard of Mimi Fox prior to this recording, I would have laid down good money that she’s been an acoustic purist all along akin to anyone on the Windham Hill Label!
Truth be told, this direction has been brewing for a long, long time. One listen to “Against The Grain” and “Textures of Loving” – which surprisingly were recorded years ago on Fox’s debut album when she was just 26 – proves that it has been long overdue.
Speaking of “Against The Grain”, it sounds just as fresh as the more current recorded tunes on the album and features Mimi Fox playing alongside…Mimi Fox! She does a very cool two guitar overdub that allows for a full rhythm track giving her the freedom to improvise without worry of holding the harmony together. This is of course where her training as a Jazz artist comes to the fore as she snakes through the changes with ease and – even at 26 – a maturity that speaks volumes about where she had been and where she was going musically.
Mind you, “Against The Grain” is not the first track that introduces you to Fox’s acoustic side. That tune is the down-home Blues infused “Get Away Blues” and would make even Doc Watson nod approval. Fox however takes the tune out a bit as she blows over implied subs and harmonies that she is no doubt hearing in her melodious mind. There’s both fingerstyle and fast-picking lines and it’s a great way to start off This Bird Still Flies!
Fox’s Blues offering is only the tip of the iceberg as this album touches upon Jazz, Rock, Folk, a smattering of Progressive Rock and probably a whole lot of other musical genres in between. A good example of this genre crossover is on her take of the Jazz Standard “Blue Bossa” where she uses a Middle-Eastern exotic sounding series of lines to introduce the somewhat familiar melody. I say “somewhat” because Fox re-imagines this tune in such a way as to nearly make it her own! The form pretty much stays the same though and you can hear the changes nicely as she plays through them in her own grand style.
There are two other Jazz standards that Fox takes apart and then puts back together. The first, “There Is No Greater Love” receives a modern rendering with some awesome fiery flat-picking along with a smattering of Blues “thrown in” for good measure. There’s also a chordal solo at the end that reminds us that first and foremost, Mimi Fox is a Jazz player. As if there was any doubt! The other standard, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” gets put through its paces with a variety of criss-crossing approaches including Classical, Jazz, Flamenco style strumming and Blues with some short dissonant harmonies and more than a slight nod to Chick Corea at some places – at least to my ears. A definite stunning tour-de-force of musicality and chops.
The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and “Blackbird” get their own particular handling from Fox as she reduces each tune to its barest of harmonic and melodic fragments and then rebuilds them. You can still hear the melody at times but the tunes themselves take on a life of their own and are given a breath of fresh air ala Mimi Fox. “Day Tripper”, especially with her use of a Baritone guitar, allows Fox to get “growly with it” on the lower strings while the higher strings retain their snappish tone and yes, that is a “Pop Goes the Weasel” quote 🙂 Not only does This Bird Fly, but apparently she rocks as well…on her own terms of course!
The remaining three tunes “Twilight in the Mangroves”, “America the Beautiful” and the title track all retain the same artistic and proficient eminence of the previous tunes while providing the listener with softer landscapes and feeling.
“Twilight in the Mangroves” is one of my favourites and it is also another duo tune with Fox and Fox! It’s a bright and cheerful tune and takes me back to my musical childhood of listening to YES and Genesis. It’s a relatively soft tune and displays a warmth that for me, harkens back to simpler days gone by. Or to put it more succinctly, it is just a beautiful tune, end of story.
“America the Beautiful” is the CD closer and is a touching rendition of the original Katherine Lee Bates poem “Pikes Peak” which was later set to music in the late 19th Century and renamed. Fox handles this tune delicately and plays it somewhat close to the vest as a way of honouring the sentiment and significance of this much loved hymn/song.
The last tune – although not in the order of play – is Mimi Fox’s anthem, a call if you will, to being true to one’s visions, dreams and life’s afforded opportunities. “This Bird Still Flies” is in response to her having, battling and surviving cancer. If music gives one wings, then Fox’s wingspan is surely wide and strong and able to lift her to new heights, hence this all acoustic CD. Joining her on this special and personal tune is her old friend Andy Timmons, a wonderful Guitar player in his own right and a great complement to Fox’s musical personality and abilities so much so that at times you can’t tell one from the other. The tune itself is relatively a simple one – like the “old days” – with a sparkling melody, responsive harmony, and just superb playing from both Fox and Timmons. A true gem of a tune and if Fox never writes or plays another acoustic song again, she has this one by her side when needed!
Before I wrap up this review I would surely be remiss if I didn’t mention the other “stars” of this CD: Taylor Guitars! Fox uses her Taylor Builder’s Edition K14ce, a Taylor 12 string and a Taylor Baritone 320e. This lady keeps good company indeed!
Thank you Mimi Fox and may This Bird Continue to Fly For Many, Many Years to Come.
*If you catch this reference you’re as old as I am 🙂
To purchase this CD head on over to the Origin Arts Record Label.
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