East of the Sun is Montreal Jazz Guitarist Greg Amirault’s second CD, and if his first is anything like his second, then y’all need to run out and buy a copy now! Why you ask? Because simply put, this CD delivers wonderful tunes, stellar musicianship and a production that is as comforting as an old friend.
From the first chordal shots of “Time After Time” to the last notes of “In A Sentimental Mood”, Greg – alongside acoustic bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Dave Laing – showcase an outstanding display of taste, skillful moderation, sensitivity, warmth, group cohesiveness and of course, harmonic and melodic chops. And while this is indeed Greg’s date as a leader, Hollins and Laing get plenty of room to do what they do best, whether that’s providing Greg with a swinging underpinning to play over, or offering up tasty solo passages. It’s no wonder that they are both first call players both in the studio and on the bandstand.
This brings me to Greg Amirault, who in my book is a wonderful player in the style of Ed Bickert, Emily Remler and others of similar ilk. His light-touch – whether comping, mixing chord shots with single lines or flat out improvising – is thoughtful, tasteful, attentive, interesting and just simply first-rate! He mixes a straight eighth note feel with a smooth and understated legato that works to catch the listener off-guard every now and then. It is clear – at least to me – that it is not Greg’s intention to whack the listener over the head with how fast he can play or how many ii-V licks he can squeeze in on any given tune (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Rather, he lets the tune’s melody guide him which – for me – gives him a kind of Chet Baker or Tom Harrell quality, adding a breath of fresh air to otherwise often played standards such as Mancini’s “Moon River”, Bowman’s “East of the Sun (and west of the moon)“, Porter’s “Everything I Love” and Cahn’s “Time After Time”. And if you’re looking for a fresh take on tunes, check out his arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” with its power chord intro and dramatic harmonized ascending statement of the head before the band kicks in with an up-tempo swinging solo section allowing both Greg and Laing the opportunity to cut loose (video). Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” also features solos from all concerned with Hollins getting some extended solo space before they trade fours. A nice showing of musical unity all around!
Suffice it to say, this album – if I had to coin a cliché – is “all killa with no filla“! However, there are four tunes that I feel merit special attention: the solo guitar arrangements of “My One and Only Love” and “In A Sentimental Mood”, along with two originals; the folky “Lighthouse Route” and the early Metheny-ish (think Bright Size Life) “Fang Song”with it’s ethereal volume swelled intro (a nod to Jonathan Kriesberg perhaps?)
Greg’s treatment of both “My One and Only Love” and “In A Sentimental Mood” is superlative as he plays the tunes warmly and with affection while using just the right amount of harmonic consideration to make things interesting without going overboard.
His original tunes are also favorites of mine because they reflect a sensibility toward composition that goes beyond a set of changes set up solely for blowing. Of course, sometimes you want such tunes, but on this CD, that would have disrupted the overall flow and pace of the musical direction this album starts off with, and that would have been a shame. Not surprising though, as much thought as Greg places on his choice of harmonic and melodic consideration, he’s also taken that same thoughtfulness in presenting a definite overall vibe for the listener to grab onto aurally.
Now, as this is a trio, I must mention that it is one of the warmest and full sounding trios I’ve heard in quite a while. Greg’s guitar tone is warm and fat but not muddy. He’s also favors a nice blend of reverb or delay that gives his sound a somewhat dreamy quality without taking too much away from his straight guitar tone. There’s a depth of sound that plays to the overall aesthetic of this CD and if I can be slightly abstract, I find that this trio recording should rather be thought of as a quartet, whereby the overall sonic quality of the album IS the fourth member. Greg and Paul Johnston – who mixed and edited the tunes – along with the mastering talents of Guy Hebert, need to take a bow for creating a sound that is warm, relaxing, and as mentioned at the top, comforting.
If you’re looking to discover a new hidden talent, look no further than Greg Amirault!