Review by Brad Walseth
You'd have to be pretty out of it not to be aware of the existence of the new guitar trio MB3, especially considering how their version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" has been all over airwaves lately. Nor is their clever guitar-based arrangement of that song the only one from their "Jazz Hits Volume 1" album to receive airplay either; in fact, the strength of the entire package as a whole led to this recording reaching the number one slot for several weeks recently on Jazz Week's jazz album charts.
Mel Bay has been a highly respected publisher of guitar instructional books for sixty years, but in 2004 the company branched out into the recording business by forming Mel Bay Records - a label focused on jazz guitar releases. Senior editor Corey Christiansen (a member of MB3) and Bill Bay (founder Mel's son) choose the artists and oversee the releases - Bucky Pizzarelli, Tal Farlow and Dave Stryker are among the guitarists that have been recorded. MB3 consists of Christiansen, along with the highly respected Jimmy Bruno (Buddy Rich), and the talented Vic Juris (Richie Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn)in a guitar trio setting, augmented by drummer Danny Gottlieb (Pat Metheny) and bassist Jay Anderson (who also engineered the project).
The beauty of this session is in how the three guitarists are able to work together without clashing - essentially creating the sound of one big guitar. The songs are mostly well known and oft-covered standards of the 50s and 60s - which makes the fact that the pieces sound so fresh quit an achievement. Songs like "Solar," "Milestones," "Freedom Jazz Dance," and even "On Green Dolphin Street" were rearranged with new voicings and harmonies that bring these dusty old chestnuts to life. The aforementioned "Cantaloupe Island" replaces Hancock's strutting keyboard comp with Christiansen's guitar, while his National Tri-tone slide changes Miles Davis' "All Blues" into a blues indeed.
The sensitive interplay, albeit intricately arranged, generally features playing in a primarily traditional jazz sound and style; but "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" features an effected-guitar solo a fusion player like John McLaughlin would be proud of. Coltrane's "Impression" is played hot and fast, while Benny Golson's "Killer Joe" blues-shuffles out the door in a playful manner. But perhaps the centerpiece is the lovely rendition of Horace Silver's ballad "Peace" painted by three guitarists who know how to caress a song until it shines. The debut album by the MB3 is a pleasurable trip to jazz guitar Nirvana that should please both jazz guitar buffs and casual listeners alike.