Jim Campilongo & Steve Cardenas
Jim Campilongo and Steve Cardenas are two longtime friends and guitarists, who, although playing as a tandem for twenty years, had never had the opportunity to record together until now. That makes it a momentous celebratory occasion, worthy of the album title, New Year. Readers of these pages have seen Cardenas’ name as a trio member with Ted Nash and Ben Allison; and more recently as part of Greg Lewis’ organ trio. Campilongo leads his own trio and is a member of The Little Willies with Norah Jones. The two met through mutual friend, singer-songwriter Richard Julian. When they originally started performing together in NYC, they played only acoustic guitars – Campilongo on steel string and Cardenas on nylon string, gigging at Rockwood Music Hall, the 55 Bar, and Barbes. Yet, with Campilongo about to relocate to California in the Fall of 2022, engineer and friend Matt Marinelli suggested they record, before it was too late. (They did once record an album which was never released. Maybe this will be the impetus for that too). This time, they brought electrics as well as their acoustics.
These lush, resonating sounds are heard first on Ellington’s “Fluerette Africaine,” a piece that Duke usually played solo. Campilongo leads with the melody while Cardenas forms perfect mirror-like echoes of his chiming lines and gorgeous chords. The bebop standard “Cherokee” sets the duo into blazing action, with some surprising twangy reverberations along the way, the two reacting beautifully fand fluidly to each other. Contemplative strains follow in Irving Berlin’s ballad “What’ll I Do.”
“Miss Venezuela” is one of four Campilongo originals, as the duo brings a Latin tinge via their acoustic guitars. Cardenas stamps Ellington’s standard “Caravan” with his Kansas City honed blues licks. Campilongo’s “Because You Like Trombone” is the epitome of two Teles resonating together in heavenly fashion while Cardenas’ “Campin In” (perhaps named for his duet partner) continues that lush, bright vibe as his “Blue Language” again accents the bluesy nature of his playing, reflected also by Campilongo as each solos in the traditionally sounding piece. Campilongo’s “The Grass is Greener” returns to the more ethereal, spacious kind of offering that introduced the album and echoed through “Because You Like Trombones.” The familiar strains of “Home on the Range” have never sounded so lovely as they do here before they close with Campilongo’s pandemic penned, lullaby-like, tremolo drenched title track.
Compatible almost beyond description, these two guitarists deliver a sonically pleasing dish, that will inevitably both prove relaxing and smile inducing.