As I sit here listening to the debut CD of New York based Jazz Guitarist Jeff Barone I realize that he definitely has a hit on his hands. From the first tune Resa’s Blues, a Barone original, to the last, Who Can I Turn To, there’s not one weak tune in the bunch. And with positive comments from revered Jazz Guitarist Jack Wilkins, who wrote the liner notes, you know you can’t go wrong. In fact, Jack Wilkins co-produced the CD along with Barone and they have been friends and band-mates for many years so that in and of itself is a winning endorsement in my book.
But does that guarantee that Jeff Barone will deliver in the guitar department? The answer is an unequivocal YES! Barone is a powerhouse on guitar with the passion of Django Reinhardt, the go for broke attitude of Brian Setzer, and the technical acumen of Robert Conti. Give Renewal, my favorite tune on this CD a listen and you’ll hear what I mean. Barone begins with a haunting melody of single notes and moody voicings in a very effective fashion setting himself up for a great solo of quick line bursts, fast trills, and chord solo shots. This tune is total feel and brings the many elements that make Barone an entertaining and exciting guitarist together in one song. Plus the band is killer with bassist Chris Berger getting in a great solo while drummer Joe Strasser plants a groove and never lets go. I can really see Brain Setzer digging this tune a lot.
Barone’s style embodies a confident and skillful player with a guitar tone that snaps, crackles and pops under the weight of his lines. He definitely does not get buried in the mix as he aggressively swings through the tunes with a carefree enthusiasm stopping every so often to soften his approach by showcasing his Classical background, like he does on the Michel Legrand tune You Must Believe in Spring. Here he treats the listener to a beautifully played intro on nylon string guitar that slightly embraces elements of Classical harmony before switching to the electric for the melody and solo sections. Ron Oswanski, the pianist on this date plays a wonderful solo before Barone takes a chorus of quick lines, energetic bursts on a single note, and a keen sense of rhythmic placement with a nice use of space. Great stuff indeed. Barone treats the listener to another alluring nylon string solo intro on the tune She’s the One written by Jack Wilkins and continues to play the nylon string throughout the whole tune. Not surprising, Barone's identity doesn’t change on the nylon string solo passages as he manages to retain his snap throughout the recording.
As mentioned earlier, I found every tune to be strong and definitely memorable and while I would be hard pressed to point out any one tune as being superior over another, there are a few tunes that I feel need to be mentioned.
One of those tunes is the Ellington classic In a Sentimental Mood. The tune opens with a very lively Latin vamp that, at least to my ears, makes no reference to the tune itself and only when Barone states the melody do I recognize the tune, which is played at a very spirited tempo. I actually burst out laughing when I heard the melody for the first time at that speed and wondered how they came up with such an interpretation. The band must have had a blast with that one in the studio.
The second tune I wanted to mention is Barone's take on the Stevie Wonder tune, Don’t you Worry Bout a Thing. It’s a great tune and Barone plays it pretty straight during the verse. The solo section of course is all Barone as he pops his way through the changes, getting in a couple of blues licks that really work nicely. Ron Oswanski gives a great solo and then Barone goes back to the head before taking the song out. Not wanting to play it totally straight, Barone adds some interesting dissonance to the descending progression at the end which may not have been what Stevie would have played but hey, this is Barone's date!
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special mention to the title track of the CD Crazy Talk composed by Barone. This is a spirited and upbeat blues with an extremely catchy melody and a very danceable meter. In fact, I had a lady friend over while playing this tune and she immediately started to boogie. Add to that a solid performance by the band, superb drumming by guest drummer Mike Clark, a great solo by pianist Oswanski, and a funky solo by Barone that reminded me of Kenny Burrell played on 78 for those of you who remember music played on a turntable. A great tune indeed!
The last tune I feel that deserves a special mention is actually the last tune on the CD. Who Can I Turn To and is a duo featuring both Barone and Jack Wilkins. Both players are sporting acoustic guitars on this one and of course as you might expect, the notes fly by with both guitarists getting their fair share of rhythm and soloing duties. This is an exceptional piece of music played by two extraordinary guitar players and if nothing else, this should be the clincher to drop a few bucks Barones way to get this CD.
For a first time outing Jeff Barone and the guys, pianist Ron Oswanski, bassist Chris Berger, and drummer Joe Strasser have hit this recording out of the ball park and I’m looking forward to the next game. If you have been unfamiliar with Jeff Barone up until this point then do yourself a favor and get this CD. And look out for Jeff Barone, he’s definitely on the rise.
Go to www.jeffbarone.com to purchase Crazy Talk or to see what else Jeff Barone has to offer.
Lyle Robinson (jazz guitar life.com)
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Review Jeff Barone "Crazy Talk"