Thursday, March 11, 2010

CD REVIEW - Ken Navarro – Dreaming of Trains

Ken Navarro – Dreaming of Trains
Reviewed by Phil Traynor

The new CD “Dreaming of Trains” by Ken Navarro (releasing nationally on March 16th 2010) is a dazzling display of multiple talents by the versatile guitarist. Navarro’s 19th release in a prolific and acclaimed career sparkles with innovation and delight at every turn.

What struck me almost immediately, and kept on striking me throughout the disc, is a fearless sense of movement. Navarro leaps from tone center to tone center with joyous abandon, changes meter with deft ebullience, changes tempo midstream, shuffles mode at will. What might seem to the casual listener to be an overly cerebral, self-absorbed tactic, it is really nothing of the sort; to me, it is a gleeful statement of personal ideas that invites you to follow along; and rewards your tenacity with dimension, harmonic complexity, and textured nuance.

The title cut is a tension-filled, ethereal piece, that demonstrates not only Navarro’s micrometered set of chops, but also showcases his deft arranging sense and atmospheric production sensibilities. I’m thrilled to hear such incredible attention to detail in the drum and percussion tracks; so often neglected on albums by solo instrument artists. The sound field is deep, wide, and focused, with a clarity that will startle you. Drummer Joel Rosenblatt (Manhattan Transfer, Spyro Gyra) is a true craftsman, and his work on this disc crackles with energy, and yet is settled, effortless, and compelling; while Navarro’s presentation of the percussion is upfront, deliberate, and meticulous.

Navarro’s signature smoothness and even-handed playing is a joy to behold throughout the disc. His versatility in migrating from clean nylon string work to funky distortion and back in “The Buzz” is especially noteworthy. “Brazilian-phase” Metheny-esque influences can be heard in “Dream So Real”, but Navarro makes it his own with chordal movement and arranging density that creates a lush and precipitating atmosphere. The gentle giddiness of “Self Propelled” is leavened by a wonderful, modal planing eleventh/dominant harmonic sensibility that makes the resolutions truly satisfying. True Stories is a multi-movement tour de force with a riveting doubled melody and global feel that once again harkens the best of Metheny/Mays. “Shared Air” has a relentless throb, a fascinating counterpoint to the gentility of the melody. The subtlety of the drummer is brought into focus again on this piece. “Everything Being is Dancing” just flat boogies. A little clav feel, laid-back and funky drums, suddenly ornamented with a dense harmonic palette, with nuanced and sensitive bass work by Tom Kennedy (Al DiMeola, Dave Weckl), and perhaps the most spirited and inspired Navarro soloing on the disc. Breathless work. “The Stars, The Snow, The Fire” makes beautiful use of odd-meter’s levitating effects on a groove. Seamless transitions into swing and then into 4/4, then back punctuate the symphonic nature of the song. Keyboardist Jay Rowe (Special EFX, Marion Meadows) is particularly mesmerizing in this piece. The closer, Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1” is an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the CD. While it is flawlessly executed, expressive, and interesting, I couldn’t help but wonder if the continuity of the album wasn’t compromised just a tad by this piece’s inclusion. I wasn’t bothered by it, but I did notice. A minor blemish at most (and I really had to nitpick to find this fault) on what is a genuinely riveting CD. If this is not up for Grammy® consideration, I shall be truly astounded. Get it. Now.

Review ©2010 Philip G. Traynor

Released on Positive Music Records

No comments: