Review by Brad Walseth
Guitarist Andy Brown shows impeccable taste in song choices as well as musical heroes on this wonderful new release, "Trio and Solo." With outstanding touch and technique, Brown moves through 15 lesser known gems, with only, I would venture, the Gershwin's "Isn't it a Pity," and Joe Young/Bernice Petkere's "Lullaby of the Leaves," all that familiar with modern audiences. And isn't that pity, because these are some great tunes, and Brown deserves kudos for his work in keeping the Great American Songbook alive and dynamic.
On the trio portion, Brown is backed by a great local rhythm section of Jake Vinsel on bass and Mike Schlick on drums. Both are familiar young artists on the Chicago jazz scene who continue to impress with the perceptive and certain support they offer their bandmates. No disappointments here: Vinsel's tone is woody and rhythmically powerful, and his solos melodic, and Schlick exudes grace and good taste. Meanwhile, Brown's playing calls to mind many of the guitar greats of the golden past: Barney Kessell, Tal Farlow, George van Eps, Luiz Bonfa and Kenny Burrell. No surprise that several of the songs covered were either written by, or inspired by versions by, the aforementioned guitar masters.
It seems a misnomer to call such music, "mainstream" jazz guitar, since so few practitioners of this style still exist. Brown credits his mentor, Kenny Poole for much of his success, and certainly stints playing with some of New York's and Chicago's best have helped as well. All these tunes are exceptionally well-played and should please fans of traditional jazz guitar sounds. Itís all "tout va bien," but some of the trio highlights for me include a version of "You're Blase," the elegant Johnny Hodges/Mercer Ellington "It's Something That You Ought to Know," and when Brown shows his blues chops on Jimmy McGriff's "City Lights," but repeated listening reveals rewards throughout. No wonder Brown is a top choice for many singers and organists around Chicago in need of stellar guitar work.
The last seven tracks feature Brown solo, and it is apparent that for as good as an accompanist as he is, he is also a standout in the solo spotlight. Again, it is hard to single out individual tracks, when all are of such a high level, but I will mention van Eps' "Scott's Lullaby" as an interesting choice, and Brown shows a sure touch with Bonfa's music, combining "Vem So" with "Samalamento" into a lovely and bitterweet melange. Brown ends this album with Victor Young and Edward Heyman's "Love Letters" and "London by Night" (written by Carroll Coates, but perhaps most well known for the Frank Sinatra version) and his sensitive and emotional playing will have the listener cheering for more. Quite a nice album, one with actual "songs" in the classic sense, as well as one that presents a welcome return to utilizing the guitar as an instrument in service to the melody of these great songs.