Mike Clinco – Neon – Whaling City Sound WCS 044, 52:18 ***:
(Mike Clinco – electric and acoustic guitar, producer; Bob Sheppard – tenor and alto saxophone, alto flute; Walt Fowler – flugelhorn; Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz – acoustic bass; Jimmy Johnson – electric bass; Jimmy Branly – drums, percussion)
Although guitarist Mike Clinco has been hard at work for a quarter of a century, the well-rounded musician is not well known in jazz circles. Hopefully, Clinco’s latest project, the sextet outing Neon, will garner him some new fans and accolades. The nine-track release is an agile amalgam of contemporary and smooth jazz, rock influences, and some Latin inclinations.
Clinco has worked extensively with a veritable who’s who of American music, including but not limited to Nelson Riddle, Bobby McFerrin, Henry Mancini, and Natalie Cole. Clinco’s backing band has equally skilled pros. Walt Fowler has toured or recorded with Frank Zappa, Ray Charles, Stanley Clarke, and several more artists. Bob Sheppard currently is part of The Peter Erskine Trio, has hit the concert stages with Chick Corea, and has session credits too lengthy to list here. Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz studied with Charlie Haden, and played with Pat Metheny, Joe Lovano, and many others. The versatile Jimmy Johnson’s talents have been utilized by Sergio Mendes, James Taylor, Alan Holdsworth, and various other musicians. And Cuban Jimmy Branly has helped Airto Moreira, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Alan Pasqua, and lots more. With a crew like that on hand, Clinco certainly has an efficient ensemble that contributes experience and ability.
While Neon showcases top musicians pooled into a singular unit, more importantly the record displays Clinco’s leadership aptitude, planning and performing expertise, and songwriting craft. Except for an introspective rendition of Mancini’s "Charade," the music is Clinco originals. Neon opens with the upbeat, amiable "Bookends," which features melodic guitar and tenor sax interaction. The radio-friendly arrangement restlessly advances, with repeating riffs, a guitar/tenor sax section, and a Clinco guitar solo which acts as an appetizer of what he can do. However, Clinco is not flashy, and donates the larger spotlight to Sheppard, who steps up and quickly establishes his capacious saxophone proficiency.
"Sonship," a neighborly contemporary jazz piece, immediately follows and traces a similar blueprint. The song includes a few gregarious meter modifications, another blithe Clinco solo that has a zestful economy, and short Sheppard solos that sparkle. Johnson and Branly also present a facile rhythmic interplay.
While the title track does not deviate far from the previous two numbers, it has a moderately darker, nighttime hue, some Spanish-tinted spice revealed via Clinco’s six-string excursion, a deft Johnson bass solo, and nearly four minutes in, a burnished and lucid Sheppard sax exposition.
Clinco shifts the program’s tone on "X Cue Says," which enters fusion territory. Clinco creates a rock-oriented framework with his tough-timbered guitar, while Branly rollicks with a driving back beat and Johnson lays down a deep electric bass intonation. While Clinco often remains firmly in the middle space, Sheppard forcefully takes front stage, producing one of his strongest and fiercest offerings on the compact disc. The generally easygoing and harmonious "Beaten Path," accented by Sheppard’s balmy alto flute, also has a rock-based characteristic, demonstrated by a stout midsection that exhibits Clinco’s affection for guitar icons like Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour or Carlos Santana.
Clinco and company show a somber and serene mood on "Daystream" and Mancini’s "Charade." "Daystream" has distinguished phrasing and meter changes that keep the otherwise shadowy piece inviting. Oleszkiewicz filters the tune’s overlying dimness through an attractive acoustic bass solo. Clinco and Sheppard match the melodically patient temperament with solos that parallel the overcast atmosphere. The most meditative moment occurs during Clinco’s unadorned and pleasant translation of "Charade," which he performs as an overdubbed duet employing two acoustic guitars, done in a pop-jazz style reminiscent of Earl Klugh or Chet Atkin’s jazzier material.
Neon is not a garishly colored effort. Rather, the nine compositions share a commercially genial approach, with adroit solos and subtle alterations in meter or phrasing without extremes or caustic intensity. While this benefits Clinco’s musical personality and garnishes Neon with an engaging warmth, some listeners may find some of Clinco’s music slightly horizontal or too uniformly well mannered. Overall, though, this is an enjoyable session.
4. X Cue Says
7. Beaten Paths
9. The Rest Will Follow
— Doug Simpson