1. Astral Island
2. Hear and Now
3. Prince Charming
4. Coltrane of Thought
5. One for Wes
6. Live Wires
7. Blue Boppa
8. Softly As in a Morning Sunrise
9. If You Should Leave
10. Love Dance
Lou Volpe - Guitar
Onaje Allan Gumbs - Piano
Bob Cranshaw - Bass
Buddy Williams - Drums
I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Lou Volpe before, but that's not suprising as he has been hiding his light under the bushels of touring and studio work for many years. He took guitar lessons with Sal Salvador, played in jam sessions with Les Paul, and backed such artists as Herbie Hancock, Peggy Lee and Lionel Hampton, as well as non-jazzers like Chaka Khan, Judy Collins and Bo Diddley. Now he has come out into the limelight and I'm glad he has, as this album is a revelation.
Lou's background has served him well, not only in giving him an impeccable technique but also allowing him to spread across the boundaries of jazz into the blues, rock and other genres. In fact the opening tracks remind me most of Pat Metheny - for the appealing sound that Lou gets out of the guitar, for his awareness of melody and because his pianist, Onaje Allan Gumbs, has the same sort of melodic instinct as Pat Metheny's long-term colleague, Lyle Mays.
All but one of the tunes was composed by Volpe. The odd one out is Softly As in a Morning Sunrise which can often sound hackneyed but here is freshened with a new bass vamp (borrowed from Wayne Shorter's Footprints?) and a performance in which the whole quartet plays as one. Lou has assembled some fine musicians for this group, and their shared expertise and jazz sensibility makes the music shine. Buddy Williams's drumming is particularly noteworthy as he supplies exemplary punctuations and breaks.
Prince Charming is a straightforward blues with splendid solos from guitar and piano. Coltrane of Thought starts by seeming far away from the style of John Coltrane, mingling hints of country music with bebop. However, the Coltrane connection becomes clear when Lou and Onaje improvise on the chords of Coltrane's Giant Steps. These amalgamations of different styles reveal the group's versatility.
One for Wes is a tranquil lilting waltz, not imitating Wes Montgomery but paying him tribute with a lovely tune. Comparisons with Pat Metheny surface in Live Wires, which is richly melodic as well as rhythmically stimulating. Lou points out that Blue Boppa is influenced by the George Shearing Quintet with its assertive block chords.
If You Should Leave is a tender bossa nova with a melody that almost begs to have lyrics attached. The album ends with Love Dance, a brisk swinger where Volpe's guitar solo recalls Wes Montgomery in its relaxed ease.
I hadn't heard of Lou Volpe before, but I'll be very happy to hear a lot more of him in future.