NEW YORK, NY–On his latest Mack Avenue Records recording, Friends, jazz keyboardist/composer/arranger/musician and virtuoso guitarist, Stanley Jordan, assembles an all-star cast of musicians who helped him show off his impeccable ability for creating tension and release. Throughout the 11-tracks CD, Jordan displays a near classical sense of orchestration, an innate gift of melody, and, of course, an underlying current for innovated improvising.
The 52 year-old Chicago native has been creating exciting and original compositions since he burst upon the music world in 1985 with the gold-selling Grammy nominated album Magic Touch.
One of the last and memorable live Stanley Jordan concerts I attended was in 1988 at the Blue Note in New York City. The audience was stunned to see this tall and lanky young cat play the electric guitar with such precision and concentrated phrasing. What was even more astonishing was how Jordan played the guitar. With his nimbly executed “touch” or “tap” technique, he ushered a dazzling and spellbinding new sound into the world of progressive instrumental music.
In the Friends CD, Jordan continues his insatiable appetite to push the boundary of how traditional jazz and popular pop music is performed.
On the Seven Come Eleven track, a song made famous by another Chicago native, bandleader Benny Goodman, whose band featured electric jazz guitar pioneer, Charlie Christian; Jordan teamed up with legendary jazz guitarist, John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli and master swing jazz guitarist, Russell Malone. The sound these three musicians were able to extract from their guitars is in itself a marvel! Bucky’s technique has a deep and meaty, utterly natural, resonance, almost as if the tone is doubling itself. Additionally, Jordan and Malone’s style in this piece will not leave a microsecond of doubt of their playing or solo constructions. Nothing is tentative – in terms of notes, phrases, or choruses.
John Coltrane’s Giant Steps track throws you back to the good ole days of Coltrane with jazz guitarist Mike Stern at the helm, accompanying Jordan. Giant Steps is a jazzcomposition by Coltrane first appearing as the first track on the album of the same (1960). The composition is a milestone in jazz, given the difficulty of improvising its rapid progression of chord changes that progress through three keys shifted by major thirds, creating an augmented triad.
Jordan’s arrangement of this classic tune for guitar is quite illuminating. Stern starts out with inventive single note melodic ideas, then moves to octaves without the faintest suggestion of slowing down to accommodate the extra note; then finally kicks it into high gear with a fully chorded out chorus that feels as forceful as a Coltrane sax.
The I Kissed a Girl track, in which Jordan plays the piano and guitar simultaneously, undoubtedly displays the multifaceted dimension of Jordan’s musicality. All contemporary jazz guitarists are different – each has their own styles. What makes Jordan stand out from the rest of the pack is his phrasing. Just like Wes Montgomery, who radically altered the jazz guitar’s sound with his innovative approach to chordal harmonies, Jordan has a knack for phrasing and the use of space. In this track – he skillfully uses single lines, octaves, and chords to give the selection an even and steady flow.
Just like early jazz guitarists who preceded before him – the likes of Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Lonnie Johnson, and Wes Montgomery – Stanley Jordan’s Friends CD is a mirror image of these Jazz Masters. Genius requires a level of concentration that the rest of us have little or no experience to comprehend.
Jordan is one of those artists who can take the listener beyond the music, producing vibrations that are not merely satisfying at a sensual or emotional-intellectual level—his music is capable of leading to discoveries about connecting with each other.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Washington, D.C. based Entertainment & Travel News Editor