Jimmy Bruno
"Maplewood Avenue"

(Affiliated Artists)
Maplewood Avenue

Review by Brad Walseth

As warm as the sunburst burnished wood top of his signature namesake Jimmy Bruno model Sadowsky guitar and as tasty as the blend smoldering in his pipe, veteran guitarist Jimmy Bruno's 13th release as a leader is an intimate trio setting that welcomes the listener into the bandleader's comfy and cozy home studio for this recording of eight original songs, all written by the participants, along with one surprising cover. Old school in its loose relaxed feel and avoidance of excessive production techniques (overdubs, edits), the session is enjoyable and features an unusual drumless environment, with the master guitarist joined by bassist Jeff Pedras and vibraphonist Tony Miceli.

This combo allows for plenty of space and room for the performers to stretch and ample opportunity is given to all three. Pedras does a fine job providing much of the rhythmic support normally provided by the drummer, while showing a fine sense of melodic invention. Vibraphonist Miceli is a delight, playing gracious and rewarding lines reflecting off of Bruno's guitar without overplaying. But of course, it is the guitarist's session and those listeners who love jazz guitar will find much to admire in Bruno's talents on the six-string electric guitar.

Sporting impressive chops, hard earned from years of playing jazz for little pay in his native Philadelphia, Bruno's work is a wonder to behold. This is an artist whose background includes winning the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour (the American Idol of its day) at the early age of 13; stints with Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Wayne Newton and others; and years spent as a sessions musician in L.A., working with the legendary Tommy Tedesco. Bruno chucked it all away in the '80s, and returned to Philly, where he played the jazz music he loved in small clubs while further honing his craft. His reputation has only grown with the years, garnering high praise from the likes of people like George Benson. Listening to him play, you can see why.

Bruno's lines are smooth and confident, but don't sound over-rehearsed. His tasteful phrasing is natural and loose and bubble over with the engaging sounds of years of hard work woodshedding and late nights jamming into the wee small hours. No David Torn-style distortion licks here, Bruno favors a clean dry and warm sound that suits him well. The interplay between the three musicians is respectfully heartfelt and the nuances (strings slapping for example) of a live performance, are all captured by this recording. It is difficult to single out any particular highlight because the results are all so consistently pleasant, but "Upstairs For Coffee" seems to be an especially appropriate number, "Jimmy's House" skitters energetically, while the Miceli arrangement of a JS Bach Theme for trio is quite nice as an unexpected foray.

A rare opportunity for those jazz guitar fans who enjoy players in the more traditional mode, Maplewood Avenue is an inviting thoroughfare, leading to a comfortable nook called Jimmy's house, where you can sip your hot coffee, light up your pipe and sit back and enjoy the music.

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