When I first heard that Jazz Guitarist Bruce Forman had a story to tell regarding how he acquired the late, great Barney Kessel’s iconic ES-350 guitar I knew I needed to know more. Forman was gracious enough to sit down with me for a virtual interview via ZOOM where he “spilled the beans” as it were. I was also excited to hear that he, Bassist John Clayton and Drummer Jeff Hamilton were heading into the studio to record an album that not only featured these wonderful players but also the very instruments that their mentors owned and used on a regular basis! As Forman has stated on more than one occasion it would be “…like kids playing their parents’ instruments!”
Reunion was thus born and a most successful crowd-funding campaign ensured that this historic event would take place! And take place it did as Forman, Clayton and Hamilton recorded twelve tunes on their “parents’ instruments!” during the last days of July 2021!
Not wanting to revisit the Poll Winners* catalog as it had already been done by the best, Forman penned five of the twelve tunes with Clayton bringing one original composition (“BRS”) to the table. The rest of the tunes are a funky mix of standards like “April in Paris”, “Green Dolphin Street” and “Stardust” along with a couple of surprises like the slightly dissonant Kurt Weil/ Ira Gershwin tune “This Is New”, Ray Brown and Steve Allen’s composition “Gravy Waltz” and the 60’s pop classic “Love Potion #9” by the writing team of Leiber and Stoller.
According to the liner notes, the choosing of “Love Potion #9” was a tune that Forman thought the Poll Winners would have been be hip to do. Of course Forman, Clayton and Hamilton take this tune to town as they treat this composition like any other vehicle for serious improvisation, and boy do they ever.
In fact, this album really needs no review if you know each of the principle players and their respective reputations. Forman, Clayton and Hamilton have been on the scene for decades and are highly respected players, educators, writers and arrangers who have played with practically everyone in one form or another. Like their predecessors, they are masters of not only their own instruments but of the totality of what it is to be a working Jazz musician, and they do so with great aplomb.
That being said, and since this a Jazz Guitar site, let me state for the record that Bruce Forman’s playing on this album is a wonderful treatise on taste, melody, burn and hip writing. The arrangements are tight and well-thought out. And while there is plenty of soloing from all concerned, emphasis is placed on the writing as well as the blowing which Forman does quite admirably on all counts.
Tunes like “Rope-A-Dope”, “Feel the Barn”, “Barney’s Tune”, “The Daze” and “Hammers Back in Town” – which features a very cool and unexpected shout chorus between the three players ala Basie – showcases Forman doing what he does best, interspersing quick fingered lines with masterful chord soloing and heavy swing. His technique is formidable and it’s no surprise, that much like his mentor Barney, Bruce Forman has impacted the musical lives of many of today’s finest players including the wonderful Mimi Fox!
As I wrap this up, I would be remiss if I didn’t give mention to two tunes that for me are highlights amongst highlights: “April In Paris” and “Stardust”. For “April In Paris”, Forman’s melodic and harmonic content borrows heavily from the much loved Count Basie version and is a cool way of expressing one’s love for such a tune!
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is the only ballad on Reunion and Forman’s exquisite solo guitar intro is robustly reminiscent of Joe Pass’s facility as he blends single lines, chord melody and contrapuntal ascending/descending harmonies in a sophisticated expression of “thank you” to the man – Mr. Barney Kessel – who befriended a young up and coming guitar player many moons ago. Let it also be known that John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton provide just the right kind of support needed – as they do throughout all the tunes – with the added bonus of Clayton playing a beautiful sounding bowed solo while Hamilton keeps the brushes flowing in pure time. Marvelous!
Oh…and for something completely different check out Forman’s arrangement of “Green Dolphin Street” to hear how the A section would sound if featured in one of them old Spaghetti Westerns…Ole! Check out the video below 🙂
So, if you’re a fan of serious Jazz Guitar playing in a trio setting with masterful musicians, then Reunion is for you. As well, if you like cool stories that feature a possible paranormal slant**, Reunion is for you as well. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to hear the “kid’s playing their parents’ instruments” unabashedly, so definitely check it out. I have a feeling that the parents won’t mind 🙂
** Read the Jazz Guitar Life interview with Bruce for more details 🙂
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