If you've followed jazz long enough, by now you've
discovered musicians who don't record for Blue
Note, Verve or other major labels and whose names
don't show up in critics' or listeners' polls,
but who simply knock you out and make you want
to hear them over and over again.
I hope for some of you that's happened with a
guitarist named Gene Bertoncini, whose playing
(on classical and nylon string here) is sublime
and swinging, so much so that it wouldn't be an
exaggeration to say that his melodicism, harmonic
sophistication, delicate touch, gorgeous sound
and overall taste and sensitivity remind you of
his great fellow guitarist Jim Hall.
Trio mates Rufus Reid, bass, and Akira Tana,
drums, are superb individually and play at the
same level or even higher as a team. After all,
they have been together for years as both sidemen
and co-leaders of their own group.
The repertoire is a highly appealing mix of classic
love songs, many from film and several by Henry
There are a number of four-star performances,
beginning with Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow
of Your Smile" (from "The Sandpiper"),
played at both slow and fast tempos and featuring
Bertoncini's lush harmony and Reid's bowed bass.
The trio surprises on Michel Legrand's "Theme
from the Summer of '42" by interpolating that
lovely melody with Legrand's "What Are You
Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and playing
it not only as a ballad but also as an energetic
samba. Bertoncini's inventive intro and harmonic
explorations inform Victor Young's "Stella
by Starlight," as does Tana's solo with brushes
on the swinging section.
Bertoncini comes up with a clever arranging idea
on Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," strumming
12 notes at the beginning and end (the clock striking
midnight) and playing a chorus a cappella. Another
marvelous Mancini melody, "Two for the Road," gets
a Spanish flavor, and finally there's Bronislau
Kaper's wonderful "Invitation." It has
been played so often that it's almost essential
that something different be done with it. Bertoncini
accommodates that need, again turning to Brazil
and the samba.
Don't know about Gene Bertoncini?
Please check him out.
— Bob Protzman
© 2004 Pittsburgh