This 2-CD set is a revelation. The extant catalogue of really hot female jazz guitarists is shockingly limited and Fox may now very well head the list. Emily Remler and Leni Stern come to mind, but neither of them could boast a style and acumen quite so strongly placed in modern trad and abstract jazz styles while simultaneously mutating every measure. Such a state-of-mind is starkly obvious on the second CD, a set of solos on standards that, while a skosh sterilely recorded, are astonishing for their wealth of innovation, technique, and personal voice, especially in atonalities and tweaks. Fox carries a lineage of the finest players like a bionic implant, evidencing Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Joe Beck, Pat Martino, and, most importantly, her true mentor, Joe Pass, an icon who found himself involuntarily so impressed by the guitarist 15 years ago that he not only agreed to give her a lesson but spent six straight hours at the outset, later becoming a friend.
I'll warn that this companion disc, though, is for deeply engaged listeners only, the sort who fall into a swoon at Hall solos and that sort of thing. The 37-minute repertoire is a smorgasbord of all that's possible in the genre, executed with jaw-dropping perfection and maximum interpretation, a homily to the past (Caravan, On Green Dolphin Street, etc.) projected into the future. I'm tellin' ya, there hasn't been a woman yet who's played like this, and Fox need take a back seat to no male. DownBeat has been marking her entry onto the scene, rightly tagged as a Rising Star for the last three years straight. Seems to me in line with the sort of honors Pat Metheny copped, no? And "Green Dolphin Street" might well be the best raw evocation of the myriad stellar traits so obvious to that venerable magazine's ears: it swings, it be-bops, it interlocks with itself, and it grabs ya from the the very first moments, never letting up.
Let's now speak of respect. First of all, this is the guitarist's debut release on Steve Vai's Favored Nations Cool label, but seventh CD all told. That's right: Steve Vai, one of Frank Zappa's most favored go-to guys when it came to impossible guitar pyrotechnics. The cat knows from great. His label's also a home to Larry Coryell, Eric Johnson, and a small catalogue of the most in-demand and hallowed cats in the profession. Next, who can nab Billy Hart as a drummer? Damn few. Add in the breath-taking Xavier Davis, who's somewhat akin to Tomasz Stanko's Marcin Wasilewski in terms of sheer fluidity, and you're smokin'. Ah, but Harvie S ties things back down to the smoky backrooms with his understated bass playing, and so the best of several worlds sits on the soundstage boppin' out prime swingin' numbers with perfect fidelity to elder and modern wonts.
However, it's the ensemble work that truly knocks you for a loop. Long ago, while just a young long-haired rock music-hound hot on the trail of Robert Fripp, Tony Iommi, Justin Hayward, and other guitar gawdz, Bill Furman, a sax player at a local record shop, a guy very influential in my formative musical tastes, turned me onto Grant Green's records and I was transfixed. I'd never heard anything like them! Were I a young bastard now, this CD would have the exact same effect: prime Blue Note, CTI, and Kudu all wrapped in one package, dripping with the deepest sympathies and tonalities, every damn note off the fretboard a result of intense concentration redistilled into the very essence of breezy confidence and highly considered thought processes. The format of a quartet fits Fox like an elegant lace glove, forming an atmosphere where she indexes handsomely into the leonine qualities of fellow pros, maintaining an exquisite voice amidst the continuous conversation.
She does, however, have a contemplative aspect in all this daunting agility, shown to perfect effect in the take on So Many Stars, a mellow cut that sparkles lazily, taking pleasure in slower modes, less concerned with the impressive runs and lines, far more intent on soul and tropicality. No matter what she and the band tackle, it flows though the speakers as though a convocation of aesthetes sitting to reaffirm, to nail down, the style at its zenith. Miss this woman at your peril. You'll find few like her and whoever may be said to be her fellows are all long in esteem and well-honed virtues, the primest of the prime, players who needn't prove any damn thing to anyone. She's that good, and I can't even begin to imagine what the live gigs are like.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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