John Stowell is one of those highly literate guitarists—art guitarists, actually—who knocked me out when I was, back in the 70s, discovering Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, Grant Green, Pat Martino, and the bevy of wunderkinds who still sit very strongly in my memories and just as solidly in my record collection. John possesses a modern classical style of jazz playing that can't fail but attract the discerning ear. In fact, the arrival of New York Conversations followed hard on the heels of my re-viewing some Jimmy Bruno DVDs, and there's a lot that connects the two even though Stowell's preferences have always cleaved to a post-bop naturalism that contains elements of the avant-garde, free style, and World.
Kendra Shank is also post-bop, a scat singer who treads in the direction of Flora Purim and similar chanteuses but also Joan LaBarbara and Meredith Monk, but without ever going too far (LaBarbara and Monk's cardinal sin). Conversations is completely duets, thus minimalist in nature but effusive in wide open spaces, through which original tunes, the Great Songbook, and other chestnuts float and wiggle. Irving Berlin's Blue Skies, for instance, gets strung between clouds, windblown and airy, radically reworked, mellowed down to a wispy recitation, Shank taking it many places despite the hushed nature, Stowell right behind her.
Rodgers & Hart's My Romance gets similarly transmuted but bouncy and Swingle Singersy—in a solo voice, of course—Stowell just as adventurous as Shank, the two playing off each other in a constant ice skating rink atop a bass and set of drums that don't actually exist but that you can almost hear, so strong is the background rhythm work understood. New York Conversations is most definitely not going to be for everyone, it's too adventurous and intelligent, but for those it was created to capture, it's very pleasing indeed and ensures that the always endangered species of true unfettered creativity, rather than radio schmaltz, will remain alive a little longer.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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