Review by Brad Walseth
A release that is both unusual and intriguing in its concept - "Side-by-Side" presents world music guitarist Francis Jacob playing primarily the same songs twice - once in an acoustic setting, and once electrified. This might have been considered a mere conceit, if the songs themselves and the performances by Jacob and his supporting musicians weren't so compelling. On the acoustic set, Jacob (on nylon string guitar) is joined by Gregoire Maret whose harmonica is a primary melodic source, Stormu Takeishi on chewy bass, and Sato Takeishi on percussion. On the electric forays, Jacob's electric guitar flights are assisted by Azouhouni Adou on keys, Aarok Heick on alto sax, Mamdou Ba on electric bass, Harvey Wirht on drums, and percussionists Gilmar Gomes, Alioune Faye, and Koto the Wonderman. This association with musicians from around the globe is not surprising for an artist who was born in Switzerland, studied guitar in Brazil, and now lives in New York City. The electric musicians in particular provide a West African feel to many of the electric pieces.
There is a wonderful breezy peacefulness that runs through this recording despite the sometimes fiery playing of the musicians. And jazz fans should have no fear that the jazz gets lost in the world music walls of percussion - songs like the electric versions of "Blues," "Mon Ane," "Paul" and "Children" have enough twists and turns and clever solos by Heick on alto, Adou on keyboards and Jacob on electric guitar to satisfy most of your jazz needs. Comparing the two versions of the songs - which don't appear back to back - the two sides of Jacob can be seen quite clearly. Stylistically, across the board - consider for example in the contrast between his gentle nylon string on "Paul" and his hot electric guitar intervallic riffing on "Mon Ane." Faye adds some fun African shout outs on this piece, but it is the delightfully childlike turn given by vocalist Gretchen Parlato on the acoustic version of "On the Other Side" that may provide the most memorable moment of the album.
A combination of urban jazz feel with harmonica-enhanced world music with African drums and Brazilian guitar - this recording is a potpourri of sounds which should be enjoyed by fans of any of these styles of music.