Andre Ferreri’s Hot New Album

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NUMERO UNO / FERRERI: Mighty Fine.+ Seasons.* Uptown Swing.* Numero Uno.* Avia Pervia.# We Were All Children.* Good Bones. On the Move.+ Making Major Changes.+ Making Minor Changes. Love Letter to Mary / Andre Ferreri, gtr; Ziad Rabie, t-sax; Anna Stadlman, bs; Kobie Watkins, dm; Philip Howe, +Sean Higgins, *Marc Stallinger, pno/org; #Brad Wilcox, tpt / Laser Records 3730

My regular readers know that I am generally allergic to most jazz and classical guitarists, not because they don’t have technique or sometimes good ideas but because far too many of them play in a soft, wimpy style that I personally detest.

Happily, Andre Ferreri isn’t one of them.

Yet, initially, I was apprehensive about this CD when I read that Ferreri had played with “an array of pop, soul and jazz legends,” particularly where pop and soul are concerned. I was also a bit fearful when I read that Ferrari started out playing rock music before discovering jazz. But, as it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. The music on this CD, and particularly Ferreri’s solos, are jazz pieces and jazz solos, not someone trying to sound like Eric Clapton in Cream. But I will say that I think Ferreri’s experience in rock music, and perhaps also in soul music, probably informs his approach ot the guitar, which is joyful, exuberant and exciting as well as full of wonderful musical ideas.

And what a band he has! This is no “lounge jazz guitar quartet.” These musicians really play their hearts out, and all of them are good. Ferreri’s own improvisations focus on rhythmic variation as much as they do on thematic, but he manages to hold your interest due to his variety of approach in the way he attacks the strings of his guitar. Moreover, he and his bandmates really listen to one another and give everything they’ve got.

Perhaps because of his background in rock and soul music, most of the pieces on this album tend towards the old funky jazz style of the late 1950s-early ‘60s, what I and many others define as the “Blue Note style.” This gives the album a bit of a retro feel, but when the playing is this good, who cares? Just listen, for instance, to Ferreri’s blues-drenched entrance on Uptown Swing. It’s perfect..continues the mood of the Hammond B3 organ preceding it, and announces his arrival with a dramatic little flourish that sets the tone for the increasingly complex solo that follows. In fact, this entire performance put me in mind of the superb but often-overlooked G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live band of the 1970s and ‘80s. And holy crap, can Marc Stallinger play that Hammond B3 organ!!! Shades of Jimmy Smith or Barbara Dennerlein!

As for Ferreri’s original tunes, they’re functional without being really impressive. Nothing in the theme statements or construction really sticks in your mind, but it’s really the entire group as a unit, how they cohere in ensembles and how good they are in their solos, that overcomes any shortcomings in composition. The tunes are good enough for what the band is playing, and with everyone operating at peak efficiency it’s hard to quibble with the results.

Moreover, I even enjoyed Ferreri’s playing in the slow introduction to Numero Uno. He just has a really nice way of enlivening every phrase he plays, and his superb grasp of rhythm serves him well regardless of tempo or musical context. He’s just a really good guitarist.

Case in point is the wonderful four-way chase chorus between Ferreri, pianist Philip Howe, tenor saxist Ziad Rabie and guest trumpeter Brad Wilcox (this is the only track he plays on) in the middle of Avia Pervia. This has to be not only the highlight of this CD but one of the finest pieces of ensemble improvisation I’ve ever heard in my life. And they almost make it sound easy.

I also give Ferreri points for the variety in tempo and feel in the way he programs this CD. Only one piece, We Were All Children,  is a ballad, it’s placed smack in the middle of the disc, and it’s not offensively sappy. Immediately following it, in fact, is the oddly-metered Good Bones (it sounds like it’s in 12/8 to me, although with a bridge in straight four) which is provides wonderful contrast.

Of course, none of the jazz presented here is modern. When your models are retro musicians and styles, no matter how good, the result is going to be somewhat retro as well, although Making Major Changes is a harmonically interesting piece, but if that doesn’t upset your sensibilities too much, you’ll find that Numero Uno is an excellent album with nary a bad track on it. And that’s something you can’t say for most modern jazz CDs nowadays.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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