October 1, 2009
Microphonic Records No #
Striking sounds can result from a combination of a sprain and serendipity. At least that’s the genesis of this uncommon musical salute to post-Second World War film noir. Featuring eight distinctive compositions given an unusual post-modern Cool Jazz lilt, Narrow Margin also reveals a hitherto unknown side of guitarist Andrew Green.
A veteran New York-based musician who has played with everyone from pianist Joanne Brackeen to drummer Matt Wilson as well as authoring three best-selling guitar instruction books, Green’s change to show off his superior composing and arranging chops literally came about by accident; in 2006 he sprained his wrists and couldn’t play for 10 weeks. Spending his time viewing hard-boiled film classics during this hiatus, Green decided to compose themes which reflect that atmospheric genre, yet reinterpret its textures using his knowledge of more contemporary jazz and rock.
That’s more contemporary, not contemporary, since the guitarist and his top-flight sidemen avoid any nods to contemporary pop/jazz. With arrangements designed to make the sextet sound bigger than it is, the group also stays clear of anything remotely atonal, while still creating high-class sounds that would impress any committed jazzer. High standards are no surprise, since Green’s associates are some of New York most accomplished and in demand younger players. Trumpeter Russ Johnson for instance works with bassist Michael Bates; drummer Mark Ferber plays with pianist James Carney; and bassist John Hebert has backed pianist Uri Caine and trombonist Joe Fiedler.
While the bassist sticks to time-keeping throughout, Ferber has a chance to expose his ruffs drags and other percussion decorations. Furthermore many of the compositions are designed to showcase one or another of the players. At points Johnston’s grace notes and burnished triplets get proper workouts, at times shaded and stalked by Green’s ringing guitar vamps or sympathetic comping. Other pieces match slurred note bursts from the guitarist with muted capillary burrs from trombonist JC Sanford. Still others launch a series of chiming guitar that meet up with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry’s honking and hocketing flutter-tonguing.
“Black Roses,” co-written by co-producer, trumpeter John McNeil – who records in a similar updated retro-Cool style – is probably the CD’s most characteristic piece. Building on sharp guitar licks and band pedal point with the trumpet part portraying a nostalgic timbre, Green’s rasgueado fills provide the proper backing to showcase mellow Sanford riffs and quivering saxophone vibrations. Before the harmonized horns take the melody out, the guitarist’s frenetic chording reintroduce the head and Johnson recaps a variant of his initial solo.
A stylized series of pristine mid-length compositions – as most film noirs were shorter features – Narrow Margin makes its point skillfully without adding superficial fills or the recording studio equivalent of CGI-film effects. One hopes that Green doesn’t become accident-prone, but on the evidence here, his composing and arranging dexterity are at least as impressive – if not more so – as his guitar playing. He should do more.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. .45 Auto 2. Midnight Novelette 3. Miro 4. Narrow Margin Taxi Driver 5. Totally Joe 6. Short Cut 7. Black Roses 8. Honeymoon in Ipswich
Personnel: Russ Johnson (trumpet); JC Sanford (trombone); Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone); Andrew Green (guitar); John Hebert (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums)