"The qualities in music which I considered most important -- and still do -- were beauty, simplicity, originality, discrimination, and sincerity." ~ Paul Desmond
Desmond, the late saxophone great, would appreciate the above referenced qualities in A Bunch of Guitars and a Cello. Jeffrey Cashen has created a diverse and interesting musical landscape with his new release. Ignoring conventional musical genre and instrument grouping boundaries, he has assembled a collection of songs that challenge categorization while nevertheless fitting together like a master melodious patchwork quilt. A bunch of guitars is, in essence, four or five gifted guitarists clustered on each composition. The cello in the title refers to the excellently full and deep cello playing of Cameron Sawzin.
"A Child Is Born" begins the journey, and immediately illustrates that some delightful jazzy guitar will be presented along this voyage. The classical music inspired "Music Box Madness" follows in three movements, all featuring the teamwork of five guitarists. The song’s premise is described in the CD liner notes as the search for a mythical music box. In Part 1, The Search, the journey to find the music box has the explorers traveling through a magical countryside as they discover unusual and beautiful sights and sounds. Part 2, Dreams, is a time of peaceful reflection upon their fairy-tale quest. Part 3, Discovery and Dance, consists of the actual discovery. When opened the magical music box plays its song; a tango dance marked by glides and sudden pauses.
The beautiful somber and brief "It’s A Lonesome Old Town" is abruptly followed by "Secret Agent Man" displaying the bass of John Sippel and percussion sounds of Rick Andre in concert with Cashen’s burning Roy Buchanan style guitar licks that approximate the Link Wray rumble. Yes, it’s the same Secret Agent Man that was the theme for the 60’s television series and the hit for Johnny Rivers; but no, it eclipses both of those with Cashen’s contemporary arrangement leaving them behind like a Corvette drag racing versus a four-cylinder. This rocking treatment is a most refreshing detour from the slower songs that, on occasion, briefly bog down.
As the title suggests, "Blue Latin," is a jazzy Latin-tinged delight, with guitarist Steve Kirby providing a beautifully appealing guitar solo. The duo of Sippel and Andre return once more to add their savory flavoring. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Meditation" is also aptly named and velvety soft as a gentle Caribbean breeze, with faint hints of a possible change in the weather. This expressive grouping of four guitars, escorted by Cashen, lifts you away to a place of serene tranquility.
The late, great Jazz trumpet icon Freddy Hubbard’s classic "Sky Dive" is masterfully done. The four guitars spiral together, with a lovely cool whirling guitar solo provided by Tonga Ross-Ma’u, and complimenting percussion by Cashen and Steve Badessa. It’s easy to visualize floating and soaring on a hang glider above a gorgeous coastline while experiencing the exhilaration of descending from the sky. The song is extremely satisfying, and perhaps the most rewarding song on this fine disc.
The placid "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" is an outlet of meaningful expression for the guitarists that reminds me of the dulcet sounds of Chet Atkins circa the release of his sweetly gratifying Sails. The trek gracefully ends with another fleeting tune that is classically inspired called "A Short Trip."
On A Bunch of Guitars and a Cello talented guitarist/teacher/arranger/composer Jeffrey Cashen pursues a variety of musical styles with vision, passion and profundity. This release may not be commercially viable, pandering to more eclectic tastes or guitar players and aficionados. Yet, it is risk taking releases, such as A Bunch of Guitars and a Cello, which continually keep Jazz growing; healthily moving ever onward to produce deep emotional reactions.