Vic Juris is a very fine jazz guitarist, and his new CD, A Second Look, testifies to that fact. Juris started playing guitar at the age of 9 and has had a charmed career playing with the likes of such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Mel Torme and Jimmy Smith. You know he’s a serious cat. Backing him on this album are some equally great players, specifically David Liebman on saxophones, Jay Anderson on bass and Tim Horner on drums.
Being a bit of a jazz purist, I have to say that there is an aspect of this recording where I take exception. Basically, it centers around the fact that on half the tracks Juris has recorded himself comping chords and then overdubbed his solos over his own playing. For the great majority of fans, this might be entirely irrelevant. However, I’ve always thought of jazz (at least straight-ahead jazz) as primarily a live medium. One of the things that I’ve always found so fascinating and awe-inspiring about the performing of jazz is the fact that so much of it is created ‘on the fly’, with only the benefit of a split second of thought, if that. The idea that so much great jazz music has been documented over the last 50 or 60 years by putting four or five guys in a room together in front of a mic, pressing "record" and then giving them a couple of takes to make the magic happen is truly amazing. I’m oversimplifying the process, of course, but my point is that when I hear recorded music that I know cannot be recreated live by the same group of musicians, it’s a bit of a disappointment. However, there’s a lot for you to like about this album.
The CD opens with the title track, "A Second Look," one of the six songs on this album that were composed by Juris. This is a great tune that swings heavily, but at the same time it has a laid-back, ‘lazy Sunday afternoon’ aura about it. This is one of the three tracks that Liebman appears on and I’ve never heard him play better. He is without a doubt one of the greatest sax players performing today. He and Juris both play very nice solos on this tune.
Next is "Barry K.," a tune that Juris wrote in honor of the great jazz guitarist Barney Kessel before he passed. It’s another easy going track, but with a Latin feel. The first solo is a wonderful extended bass solo by Anderson. This track also contains an especially outstanding guitar solo. It has a great arc to it. Listening to Juris here is akin to listening to a master storyteller tell a great story.
The next four tunes are all standards - Cole Porter’s "So In Love," Kern and Hammerstein’s "All The Things You Are," Keith Jarrett’s "Shades Of Jazz" and Bill Evan’s "Very Early." "So In Love" has a beautifully melodic chorus (as you would expect from Porter) and Juris takes his time with it, stretching out and really getting inside the changes. On "All The Things You Are" the band chose to play it as a dreamy ballad, quite a change from the mid-to up-tempo pace that it’s usually played at. I’ve never heard it this way, but found it quite enchanting. This is the second track featuring Liebman and his soprano sax is exquisitely haunting.
They then raise the tempo quite a bit for Jarrett’s "Shades Of Jazz." Juris’ playing is again superb and really showcases his command of the bebop idiom. Horner closes the tune with a spirited drum solo. "Very Early" is a strictly guitar tune - it’s Juris alone, overdubbing his lead playing over a previously recorded comping track. You already know how I feel about that, but I can’t deny that his playing on this track (just like all the other tracks) is flawless.
The last four tracks are all Juris originals. "Little Brian" is a mid-tempo ballad with a Latin-rhythm and a slight hint of country/bluegrass in the melody of the chorus. Very nice. That is followed by "Table For One." On this track, in addition to the guitar overdubbing, Juris enlists the beautiful voice of Kate Baker to double the melody of the chorus with him. Unfortunately, that’s all the singing she does. She never gets any solo time and there are no lyrics. I would have loved to hear more of her and it’s annoying to me because this is another situation that you would probably not find in a live performance.
The next tune, "Dizzy, Trane And You," is probably the best track on the album, even though it clocks in at only 4:14. Liebman is on tenor saxophone here and to call his playing electrifying would be an understatement. His energy is contagious and Juris’ solo burns just a brightly. As a matter of fact, when Liebman is present it seems like the intensity of the entire band is raised a notch, which is not a put-down, but simply an acknowledgement of how well he functions within the group and how much he contributes to it.
The last tune, "Indian Summer," is probably the best non-sax tune on the album. It contains a very memorable melody, with guitar and bass solos that deliver heavy emotional impact.
Overall, once I was able to get over my little quirk, I enjoyed this album quite a bit. I’d love to catch Juris & Co. live sometime. My guess is that they are probably even more impressive in person than they are on record.