Nate NAJAR – This is Nate Najar – Candid 79979, 50: 58 (10/31/16) ****½:
(Nate Najar; nylon string guitar/ James Suggs; trumpet/ Matt Home; drums/ John Lamb; bass)
An odd nylon string guitar/trumpet combo makes for a unique bossa-swing ensemble.
On this eponymous debut, Nate Najar plays jazz on an unamplified classical guitar in the tradition of Charlie Byrd and Laurindo Almeida. His Daniele Chiesa instrument, miked very closely so as to hear every squeak and pop, is splendid. His technique is a hard-won achievement of the musical conservatory; from the right foot ticking off the metronome to the left foot on that fussy apparatus the foot-stool, he looks and sounds the consummate classical guitarist. Yet the style is that of bossa-swing. On a couple of Jobim tunes, he sounds the most like his predecessors in his harmonic language and rhythmic feel. Three Chick Corea tunes suggest more modern influences. An attractive feature of his style is the lively interplay between swift single note passages and harmonically inventive chordal melody. Every note is pulled off with the fingertips evoking more tonal variety from one instrument than I have heard in some time. It is worth noting that the most affecting moments come on the final solo, Crystal Silence, and his solo intros. There is also a Chopin prelude played with a subtle and charming rubato and ending with a pang of regret at a minute and a half.
The other voice in the ensemble is the trumpet of James Suggs. Not a common partner for the guitar, the trumpet is balanced nicely by use of the mute and also by the restrained sensibility of the player. Even more than the guitarist, Mr. Suggs stays close to his roots in the older style of pre-bop masters. On a straight blues, Centerpiece by Harry Edison, he captures some of Mr. Edison’s cheerful pungency on a swinging tune. In addition to his fine soloing throughout, he contributes a fine chart, But Oh, What Love, on which he sets the mute aside and shows off a burnished vibrato-rich tone on a memorable melody. The solo that follows by Najar is a refreshment to ears wearied by the one-dimensional sound of the over-subscribed electric guitar.
Bassist John Lamb plays capably throughout, delivering quarter notes “as fat as half-dollars” as my bass teacher used to say. So assured is the timekeeping that the drums sometimes feel redundant. Yet on the astonishingly beautiful, O Morro Nao Tem, drummer Matt Home shows a melodic finesse on a nicely captured kit. Elsewhere his subtle brushwork shows the same restraint and attentiveness that makes this ensemble work so well together.
The addition of a cello on the front and back end of Insensatez was a strange decision. If anything, it seems a kind of insensitivity to the aesthetic parameters of the group concept.
The temptation to add things to a record via guest tracks, walk-on vocalist and voice-overs should be resisted. Rather one should subtract, paring things down to the essence. Ask how many tracks can do without percussion, for example. Nate Najar arrives at this position on the stunning final track by Chick Corea on which just six strings deliver the right balance of crystal and silence.
This is altogether a fantastic album, making a case for the superiority of the unamplified guitar in terms of both technical resources and expressive reach. I posit that this musician is capable of even loftier artistic heights if he essays a solo album or a duo with a bassist that takes him more in the direction away from the swing-bossa towards open ended modern compositions.
TrackList: 500 Miles High; What Would Ola Mae Do?; Sidewalks of New York; Prelude in E Minor (Chopin); Insensatez: Chick’s Tune; But Oh, What Love!; Centerpiece; O Morro Nao Tem Vez; Crystal Silence
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