Guitarist and Berklee College of Music instructor Bruce Saunders has a mellow, thick sound which serves him well on ballads and mid- and up-tempo tunes equally. His working group of Adam Kolker (tenor and soprano,) Alan Ferber (trombone,) and the rock steady rhythm team of Mark Ferber and Mike McGuirk on drums and bass, is fully attuned to the leader and to each other, making for a seamless and riveting recording. The eight-song program is comprised solely of original material and points to Saunders' brilliant songwriting and arranging capabilities.
The brief notes indicate that the jazz master lists Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and Jimi Hendrix as early influences. None of those are conspicuous here. Instead, the quick fingered plectorist takes inspiration from the New York jazz scene. His fluid touch is stimulating on the opening "Two Piers," on which he is fleet fingered throughout and shares superb solo space with both horns. "Another Happy Drinking Song" is a mid-tempo piece that reminds at times of Pat Martino. "Squib" is a drum propelled piece on which Alan Ferber’s trombone shines and Kolker’s muscular tenor darts. While this is unquestionably the guitarist’s CD, he is democratic in his approach to sharing space.
"Grim" is a pensive ballad piece on which Saunders’ touch is most impressive and slowed. The horn voicings are gorgeous, matching the mood and starkness of the guitar. Drum and bass are again conspicuous on "Half Right," a piece on which Kolker’s tenor takes a superb solo in front of Saunders’ equally impressive solo. On "Keyed In," Kolker’s soprano is the first voice, with a solo following from Saunders in front of a extended reading from McGuirk. "Litany" has a Latin feel, with gorgeous soprano and trombone voicing. Alan Ferber’s solo here is breathtaking. Finally, on the closing "Stately," Bruce Saunders flirts with the melody, skirting a heavy and plodding pace and the hopefulness of a bounce in the mix. The combination is thoughtful and somewhat brooding.
Mel Bay has been making instructional videos for decades. The recording label has proven itself as impressive with players as well as know as John Abercrombie, Vic Juris and Bucky and John Pizzarelli, and players deserving a much broader audience, such as the impressive Bruce Saunders.