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Spring Forward by Bill Banfield

Guitarist, composer and author of two books, a third is upcoming, William C. Banfield, is the professor of Africana Studies/Music and Society at the Berklee College of Music. Included in his scholarly work is acting as head of a national team working to write up a new American Popular Music national curriculum under the auspices of the Quincy Jones Foundation. His past experience includes time as a student of music at the New England Conservatory, theology at Boston University and composition at the University of Michigan; previous teaching posts include those at Indiana and St. Thomas universities.

This recording features Banfield working within the context of a few different bands. Together the collection borders on smooth melodies that for the most, due to the use of extended improvised solos from Banfield and his various bandmates, fall outside of the realm of smooth jazz. Overall the recording harkens back to the work George Benson was doing during his early Warner Brothers days of the mid 1970s. In both cases the emphasis is on playing and self-expression within contexts that are accessible by experienced and layman jazz lovers. By playing popularly organized melodies and allowing ample room for soloistic expression, Banfield crafts a most enjoyable recording.

The Free Blues Suite, making up five of the disc’s nine cuts, contains perhaps the most adventurous compositions. "Spring Forward" is the tightest of the five with regard to construction. It’s both radio friendly and tightly constructed in a popularist vein. "Free Me" is an uptempo bebop oriented tune which utilizes a freely organized middle section providing space for some great lines from bassist Terry Burns and some hot and taut drum work by Stokley Williams. All three combine in support and in conjunction with Banfield’s fleet finger work. The contrasting swing mid-section is a pleasant diversion. Burns’ excellent solo shows the extent of how talented a band Banfield commands.

Throughout the disc Banfield plays clearly delineated lines. To aid this his band gives him ample space by not filling the background too fully which allows Banfield to follow his phrases to their logical conclusion. As a soloist Banfield has an upbeat style that shows both technical mastery and harmonic intuitiveness for building solos in both logical and emotional ways; a feat all too rare in today’s "play the changes down" jazz environment.

With regard to the rest of the disc some pieces are unable to find their footing, like "Losing Absalom" and "Follow The Melody Of Your Soul." While focus waivers you can still tell how committed the guitarist is in expressing and presenting his conceptualizations. The great majority of the disc is, however, excellent. In pieces like "She Made It Crystal Clear" and a cover of Wes Montgomery’s "The Thumb," both about the same tempo, the communication between the musicians is excellent as they play off of each other’s light rhythmic pops and taps. They are so in sync it's almost a little creepy, but in a good way. Banfield is truly a mind and instrumentalist to be reckoned with.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill Banfield
  • CD Title: Spring Forward
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Innova
  • Rating: Four Stars
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