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Lou Volpe “Hear And Now” (Jazz Guitar Records 070) Street Date March 2011
Lou Volpe-guitar, Onaje Allan Gumbs-piano, Bob Cranshaw-bass, Buddy Williams-drums
Maybe because I was raised around a family full of musicians, and many of them playing the guitar, I’m attracted to guitar based music, even though my own skills are minimal. I love the sound and the abilities and capabilities of each musician, and I appreciate a lot of it. Perhaps this is why upon hearing Hear And Now by Lou Volpe, I hear a sense of home or a homecoming. No, Volpe doesn’t have (to my knowledge) any roots in Hawai’i, but I mean music that sounds like the comforts of home, in that he sounds comfortable in what and how he plays. Volpe has done session work and has played live with many musicians in his career, and this is just an additional thread in the fabric of sounds he has shared with the world.
Volpe may play jazz but he’s not limited to just jazz, nor is he a jazz purist like some musicians make themselves to be. On this album, he plays the hell out of his guitar but it’s not a blitzkrieg or anything. It’s just someone who loves to play and does so with incredible skill. It goes back to some of the jazz guitarists of the 1960’s like Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino where the beauty in what he plays is, well, what he plays. I love the phrasing on this and how it feels like a casual conversation to whomever is willing to listen. This is the kind of jazz I could listen to all day, and the kind of jazz that may make your Sunday mornings even better.
Review By John Book
Most people love an underdog, someone who gives 110 percent but somehow never gets success, attains achievements or finds deserved recognition. New York City guitarist Lou Volpe qualifies as an underdog. He is a veteran of the Big Apple studio scene, has supported numerous musicians from Herbie Mann to Peggy Lee and along the way Volpe has built a small but appreciative fan base. But he remains a secret to most jazz listeners. Volpe’s recordings are infrequent, so it’s a joy to catch him on his new mainstream jazz quartet outing,
Hear and Now, containing nine Volpe originals and one jazz/pop standard.
Volpe plays with verve and swing, shifting from jazz overtones to blues licks, and includes a few pop contours. A guitarist could not ask for greater assistance than pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs – whose long credits could stretch to the moon and back; drummer Buddy Williams – who has an equally impressive résumé; and bassist Bob Cranshaw, who is best known for backing Sonny Rollins for five decades. Together these four artists cover all the bases.
The opener, the pop-tinted “Astral Island,” is probably Volpe’s most familiar composition, since it is the title track on Herbie Mann’s 1983 release, Astral Island, which featured Volpe in an auxiliary role. Not to mince words, this rendition is far superior to Mann’s tepid version. The rhythm section keeps the tune moving at a refreshing pace; Gumbs supplies a vamping solo; Volpe showcases his warm style which echoes Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery; and there is no one better than Cranshaw when it comes to bubbling bass lines.
Volpe directly reveals some of his influences on three appealing tunes. One cut particularly personifies Volpe’s enviable chops and composing skills. “Coltrane of Thought” features a rushing Volpe solo followed by a dynamic Gumbs piano foray, and Volpe enters again with a bluesy vamp which slips into a bop impression. When “Coltrane of Thought” fades near the five minute mark, it feels too soon. Volpe crafts a homage to another hero on the glowing ballad “One for Wes,” which has an emotive Volpe improvisation which evokes Wes Montgomery’s melodic accessibility and bluesy fluidity. Volpe heads into different directions on the sophisticated “Blue Boppa,” which employs block chord melodies akin to those popularized by George Shearing’s quintet. While Volpe solos with a blues voicing, he also utilizes colloquial movements which furnish unique harmonics.
Volpe has a way with romantic sentiments as well. During the upbeat blues undertaking “Prince Charming” Volpe throws in fret runs suggestive of Herb Ellis but Volpe adds enough of his own melodic elements that the number never seems like a pastiche. Especially noteworthy is the juxtaposition between Gumbs’ sprightly keyboard work and Volpe’s darker six-string sound. The foursome lay out a placid bossa nova design for “If You Should Leave,” a poignant ode to Volpe’s wife. The band sustains a gentle groove which stays shy of being too near to light jazz. The closing “Love Dance” also flirts with pop sensibilities, but Volpe’s flair for energized elegance and the manner in which he and Gumbs trade lines back and forth makes this track – and this album – a real winner. Good news for fans: Volpe is already working on his next project, a solo guitar record of Sinatra material.
Review By Doug Simpson
All but one of the tunes was composed by Volpe. The odd one out is
Softly As in a Morning Sunrise which can often sound hackneyed but here is freshened with a new bass vamp (borrowed from Wayne Shorter’s Footprints?) and a performance in which the whole quartet plays as one. Lou has assembled some fine musicians for this group, and their shared expertise and jazz sensibility makes the music shine. Buddy Williams’s drumming is particularly noteworthy as he supplies exemplary punctuations and breaks.
Prince Charming is a straightforward blues with splendid solos from guitar and piano. Coltrane of Thought starts by seeming far away from the style of John Coltrane, mingling hints of country music with bebop. However, the Coltrane connection becomes clear when Lou and Onaje improvise on the chords of Coltrane’s Giant Steps. These amalgamations of different styles reveal the group’s versatility.
One for Wes is a tranquil lilting waltz, not imitating Wes Montgomery but paying him tribute with a lovely tune. Comparisons with Pat Metheny surface in Live Wires, which is richly melodic as well as rhythmically stimulating. Lou points out that Blue Boppa is influenced by the George Shearing Quintet with its assertive block chords.
If You Should Leave is a tender bossa nova with a melody that almost begs to have lyrics attached. The album ends with Love Dance, a brisk swinger where Volpe’s guitar solo recalls Wes Montgomery in its relaxed ease.
I hadn’t heard of Lou Volpe before, but I’ll be very happy to hear a lot more of him in future.