Lee Jones: Swish (2009)
British guitarist Lee Jones emerges from a new generation of jazzers steeped in a digital age that makes record labels, recording contracts and even CDs evermore useless. Rather than woodshedding, as many talented jazz soloists have done before him, getting lost in academia or taking once lucrative studio jobs that probably don't exist anymore, this young guitarist roars out onto the playing field determined to make it on his own. On this, his self-assured debut, Jones shows he's got the muscle to make it happen.
He's certainly got the chops. It's as if he's studied every guitarist who ever recorded during the 1970sa full decade preceding his own birth. Jones' most clearly identifiable influence is Larry Carlton, whose playing defined records by The Crusaders, Steely Dan and hundreds of others, tempered by a touch of Lee Ritenour. Often, Jones will introduce something George Benson hasn't been heard to do in at least the last 25 years and then drop something other studio heroes like Robben Ford (L.A. Express) or John Tropea would have done years ago. All of it comes out in a way that suggests Jones has masterfully synthesized his influences into a voice that has things of its own to say.
Even though Swish is clearly of his own design, Jones may have not flattered himself as well as he might have in this mix of neo-fusion and smooth-jazz ballad workouts. Thankfully brave enough to dispense with well-trod standards and predictable jazz cover tunes, Jones features his own compositions here and evinces an avid potential for highly interesting writing.
It is on the ballads ("Majik," "Retrospective" and "Out Of the Day") where Jones positively shines. These are pretty without ever being too sweet and the guitarist is particularly adept at telling involved and involving stories in this mode. He's a melodic and highly methodical improviser that knows how to build and release some of the steam he occasionally works up. "One Little Blue Note," a smooth radio-friendly original, is an excellent introduction to what he does best; simple melodic figures interacting with supple and sinewy playing.
The guitarist only stumbles on the somewhat tedious neo-fusion numbers (two versions of the regrettable title tune, "Cookin' On Gas," and the academically inclined "Dorian Diversion"), mostly two-chord vamps that inspire or generate high-class noodling. The title track seems to challenge the guitarist a bit awkwardly, which pleasingly wipes some of the sheen off the polished veneer. While Jones can often handle (and probably enjoys) these more up-tempo forays, they do not reach the heights his ballad playing (and writing) mostly achieves.
Still, Swish serves as both an admirable introduction to Jones and his guitarisms and as ample notice that a major player has stepped out onto the field.
Track Listing: Swish; Majik; One Little Blue Note; Cookin' On Gas; Retrospective; Halfway House; Dorian Diversion; Out Of The Day; Swish (jam mix).
Personnel: Lee Jones: guitar, keyboards; Pete Parkinson: saxes, flute; Ben Thomas: trumpet; Alex Steele: keyboards; Frazer Snell, Mark Smith: electric bass; Zoltan Dekany: double bass; Chris Dagley: drums; Simon Tittley: Stylus RMX/drum programming.
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock