One of the most delightful advancements in jazz during the 1980s and 90s was the advent of non-thrashing guitar oriented groups. Perhaps the best known within this genre are Strunz and Farah and Acoustic Alchemy. Located somewhere between new age, soft rock and jazz, the New West Guitar Quartet (NWGQ) formed in 2003 as an outgrowth of their time spent as students at the University of Southern California. Since then they have performed throughout Europe, Japan, Canada and the Western United States.
The ensemble’s sound is unique for guitar quartets in that they all play a variety of instruments, giving them a wide range of sonic possibilities, which they bring to bear with great effect on this disc. "California," the only vocal number, would not have been out of place on 1970s soft-rock radio. On the more fusion-esque side is "Wildman From Eugene." This tune, in 7, exemplifies how well the group is able to incorporate acoustic and electric instruments into a cohesive whole. More experimental in nature is a rethinking of John Barnes Chance’s "Incantation And Dance." Those who know of the original will find little resemblance between that work and the version which appears here.
None of the music the group plays is focused on displays of technical exhibition. Even when given the chance to show off, the musicians always take the peaceful route; think Al DiMeola’s Soaring Through A Dream era music. On "Peace Park," for example, the quasi-slide guitar sound is electronically altered to layer brilliantly on top of the serene acoustic mix. A less-classy way to go would have been to let this piece just rip, but instead of the electric soloist, none of the solos are ascribed to any one individual in the liner notes, stays in check. Charles Mingus’ famous "Fables Of Faubus" at first seems like a misplaced work within this group’s style, but they find a quirky way to swing it that mixes lots of open holes with double-time sentiments yet still allowing for moments of tasty improvisation.
Pat Metheny’s "Another Life" is given a straight treatment. The addition of Sandro Feliciano’s percussion, the only track on which percussion is added, helps set the mood so closely associated with Metheny. How four guitarists are so clearly able to create a smooth sound without getting in each other’s way and mucking up the soundscape is a testament to not only their arrangements, but also their musicianship. For those looking for something with more bite than what new age has to offer, the NWGQ could be just right.