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[Off The Record]
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James Emery

One of the great living jazz-guitar virtuosos, Emery (best known as a founder of the String Trio of New York) here focuses on his writing — eight tricky compositions for a small " chamber jazz " sextet. That means a mix-and-match of various two-reed combinations (Marty Ehrlich and Chris Speed) along with his guitar, vibes (Kevin Norton), and drums and bass (Gerry Hemingway and Drew Gress, respectively). Emery likes to break a composition into subgroups of trio, duo, and quartet and set them to work on various interwoven themes and time signatures. His pieces can be jumpy and angular or bluesy-and-swinging, sometimes in the same tightly written passage. No matter how rich with complicated events, the pieces evolve in clear patterns over their eight or 10 minutes. Saxophones blow freely over an abstracted samba beat, two clarinets dance off in parallel figures, or Emery fires off his own aggressively strummed chords against a fat alto saxophone. Moody free passages give way to driving 4/4 sprints.

Emery’s commitment to acoustic guitar is impressive. His speed and articulation are downright fierce, and they never come at the expense of cogently developed ideas. At times his bluesy runs cry out for the sustain and flexibility of amplification (in the ’80s, he recorded at least one great electric-guitar outing with bandleader Charles " Bobo " Shaw), and yet, when you hear the bite and unadorned presence he can give each note, it’s hard not to appreciate his integrity.


Issue Date: May 24 - 30, 2001

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