Here’s another rather unique jazz configuration as prolific reedist David Sills forms his David Sills Double Guitar Quintet for the generous 70 plus minutes Natural Lines. At times, you’d think this was primarily a guitar album as Sills gives plenty of solo room to guitarists Mike Scott and Larry Koonse, bolstered by his frequent rhythm tandem of bassist Blake White and drummer Tim Pleasant. While Sills usually plays in a quintet with a guitarist, here he opts for a second guitarist rather than the pianist explaining, “In recent years, most of my performances have taken place in venues in which no piano was available, so to fill the role of the missing piano, I began adding a second guitar. This instrumentation seemed to open up many musical possibilities and allowed for an interesting mix of sonic colors.”
To say that Sills is prolific is an understatement as this his 17th album as the leader. Here he presents seven originals as well as interpretations of tunes from Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Jimmy Davis, Alan Broadbent and one each from Scoot and Koonse. Some have compared Sills’ robust tenor sound as a cross between Stand Getz and Joe Henderson. He certainly had some great teachers and mentors, having earned his Masters at the Manhattan School of Music in NYC where he studied with Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, and Dick Oatts. The California native returned to his home state about seven years ago and tours stateside and international with his various bands.
Widely respected guitarist Koonse is a dear friend and one of the West Coast’s most respected players. Mike Scott is a founding member of the Los Angeles Jazz Collective and has a rich resume. The two indeed create plenty of ‘natural lines” but blur the colors together well too. The guitarists are prominent from the outset as they open with Scott’s tune “Minor Monk,” which, of course, as an infectious groove. Koonse follows with his own “Sync or Swim,” a varied tempo piece, stocked with changes and space for, in this case, the three front liners to make their own statements. Sills then delivers his own homage to Sonny Rollins with “Sonny’s Side,” infusing some of Rollins’ clearly familiar rhythm changes and classic licks, that the guitarists play off as well. Pleasant’s drumming is impressive, marrying some of those calypso rhythms into the mix before takin his own solo.
“Quiet Is The Star” inevitably slows the tempo and changes the sound as Sills plays the alto flute with gorgeous tone on the tune composed by the renowned composer and pianist Alan Broadbent. As the guitar enters following his solo, the sound quality just seems striking attesting to how well this album is mixed and engineered. The guitarists not only deliver fluid lines, but sometimes play in counterpoint to one another and deliver resounding chords that create those sonic colors that Sills referenced earlier. The credits do not designate which is the soloist when but be confident that both shine in that role too. It’s difficult to assign the term ‘standout’ to any of these tracks without making that designation for all of them, as each has its own merits.
Sills returns to tenor with an extended version of the ballad he’s been playing for 30 years, “Lover Man,” over nine minutes of lush, romantic tones. The propulsive swinging “Foggy Daze” is a contrafact of the standard “A Foggy Day,” stemming from an assignment Sills gave to his students that led to, as it often does, a new line for the tune, and s true showcase for all players. Similarly, the calm “Mellow Stone,” is a contrafact of “In a Mellow Tone” and is taken to a rather boozy or perhaps hallucinogenic vibe, depending on one’s preference. Staying in familiar territory the quintet then presents Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” from Miles’ second great quintet vintage with Sills opting again for the alto flute. Notably, White delivers a lyrical acoustic bass solo.
The derivation of “Jones’ Tones” is the standard “Have You Met Miss Jones” and it will get your blood churning as it swings mightily. The brief group improvisational “All the Little Things” comes from another famous tune you can likely guess. “Outside Corner,” however refers to a term that only surfers are likely familiar with, meaning large waves. Sills named the tune from his own surfing experience in Bali. Th album closes with the Bill Evans tune “Interplay,” one that Sills had previously recorded on flute but reprised on alto flute here in this new configuration.
This is an exceptional recording, befitting these top-notch musicians and long-time collaborators who speak the natural, empathetic and seemingly telepathic language of jazz.
- Jim Hynes