Blue Line Music 2020
Classic tunes accessed afresh by two masters of jazz who escape fusion and find new meanings in familiar setting.
Raiding the Great American Songbook has been quite a commonplace lately – to an extent where the same pieces, repeating over and over again and migrating from album to album, became undeservedly boring – and stepping outside the canon began to seem like a crime. Which is why this record, a joint effort of guitarist Nate Najar and bassist Tommy Cecil feels rather sensational – and sensual too: not only because such an acoustic string duo is not format you come across very often, but also because the players stay away from the obvious offerings, preferring to navigate a route between what they, rather than publishers, deem to be dear perennials. So it doesn’t matter that numbers on display belong to different eras – Cecil and Najar make the tracks an indelible part of music tradition their country bestowed upon the world.
Of course, there are cuts from the aforementioned collection of evergreens, the instrumental cycle staring with Gershwin’s “Of Thee I Sing” – strummed and punctuated with a lot of tenderness and infused with freedom – and featuring Rodgers’ equally vibrant “Glad To Be Unhappy” further down the line, yet Ellington’s “Black Beauty” and Flanagan’s “Minor Mishap” – originally written for piano – as well as Thad Jones’ “Bitty Ditty” lend themselves to much more frivolity and allow for a filigree applied to familiar tunes. As bottom-end supple, if powerful, rumble follows exquisite top lines, even contemporary entries in the catalogue get transmogrified into something less tangible than beloved hits – Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” and “Like A Straw In The Wind” from Barbara Streisand’s repertoire lose vocals to gain romantic depth and levity – but both bass and guitar waltz wondrously together in Sondheim’s “A Little Priest” and delicately complement each other on Carmichael’s “Winter Moon” to a great effect.
There’s celestial light in “Sure On This Shining Night” which clearly shows how, for all the sophistication implemented here, Tommy and Cecil managed to retain the classic numbers’ immediacy while digging into their previously hidden layers. That’s what gives “American Melodies” an aura of masterpiece.