Breeze is one of two new long-awaited Nicolas Meier albums released this month (the other being Journey, also reviewed), here with the Nicolas Meier Trios, on MGP Records.
Meier surely hardly needs any introduction. This young fire-brand guitarist is often described as "one of the rising stars" of the British jazz scene. Rising? He's been up there with the best of them for quite a while. The British jazz scene has always had more than its fair share of brilliant guitarists, and Nicolas Meier fits squarely into the top rank of not only the British but indeed the international scene. On Breeze, Meier can be heard on a variety of acoustic fretted and fretless steel string and nylon string guitars, electric guitar, as well as on the fabulous glissentar - a fretless, 11 nylon-string guitar with all but the low E string doubled, produced by Godin to mimic the Middle Eastern oud and thus be particularly suited to Turkish and Arabic influenced music - and on the Turkish baglama (also called saz).
Little could be designed better to delight the listener and showcase and test the performer's abilities than the trio format. The trios here consist of The Acoustic Trio and The Electric Trio. The former comprises Meier himself, with Demi Garcia on percussion and Paolo Minervini on acoustic bass. Percussionist/drummer Garcia, fast making a name for himself as a regular with among others Alec Dankworth's Quintet as well as flamenco dance companies, is well at home with blending flamenco and Latin rhythms with jazz and even pop. Bassist Minervini comes principally from the world of soul.
The Electric Trio will need little or no introduction, comprising Nicolas Meier himself alongside probably the most in-demand drummer of his generation if not our time, the phenomenal Asaf Sirkis, and the fabulous Pat Bettison on harmonica and electric bass, both also regulars of the Meier Group.
The material on Breeze is a thoughtful selection of seven Meier originals, one already familiar from other settings, and four superlative standards. Of the latter, two are given to the Acoustic Trio - J. Green's Body and Soul and the J. Kosma and J. Mercer-penned Autumn Leaves. The other two are given the Electric Trio treatment and comprise Chick Corea's Spain and John "Trane" Coltrane's Countdown. The originals testify to Meier being not only a prodigious guitar talent but moreover a formidable and imaginative composer.
Nicolas Meier's Breeze is effectively two albums in one, with the Acoustic and Electric Trios each naturally having their own very distinctive style and identity. One would dearly love to hear more of each and indeed could wish for this to have been extended into a double CD or two separate albums. Both trios are such a refreshing breeze of fresh air.
The Acoustic Trio is given the first six tracks and the final, eleventh, track. Here, Meier's flamenco and Latin influences, and to a lesser extent his Turkish ones, are given free rein on his originals. Even his interpretations of Body and Soul and Autumn Leaves are given an incredibly Latin/Spanish feel, with beautiful results.
Meier shines with a radiant brilliance, whether on his guitars, the glissentar or the baglama. His improvs are always fresh, imaginative, inventive, and both his lyricism and his pyrotechnics are equally breathtaking. Passionate and fiery or thoughtful and romantic, Meier is always full of conviction and never short of charm and wit. Minervini's acoustic fretless bass is subtle and precise, with a particularly fine solo on Body and Soul. Garcia's percussion shines throughout with imagination, precision and that perfect 'Spanish' feel, which should come as no surprise given Garcia's Spanish roots.
Tracks seven to ten are given over to the Electric Trio. The flamenco/Latin influences are less in evidence here, with the exception of Chick Corea's Spain which indeed has never sounded more Spanish than here. Otherwise, some delicious metal and blues influences come more to the fore, especially on Trane's Countdown.
Meier's intensity on the electric half of Breeze gets awesome but never unbearable, over the top. As on the acoustic half, his improvs are nothing short of brilliant, ever inventive, imaginative and fresh. Meier is never short of conviction, charm and wit, and both his passionate outbursts and more lyrical playing delight equally. There is also some superb bass soloing from Bettison, not to mention his outstanding harmonica on Senses. Sirkis as ever is pure joy with his lethally precise timekeeping and timing, his seemingly limitless palette and immense breadth of imagination. Some fine volcanic solos are a real treat. A team that complements each other to perfection.
It is not only impossible to pick any particular favourite track or tracks but moreover it would be utterly futile to attempt to do so. The Nicolas Meier Trios' Breeze is a thoroughly consistent, solid album and consistently brilliant. One of the very finest and most exciting jazz guitar albums for a long while, every single track has its own attractions and delights. The resulting whole is simply sensational. Breeze should carry a "health warning" though - "Addictive - will leave you craving more!"
No guitar, jazz guitar, or contemporary jazz or general good music collection could possibly ever be complete without the Nicolas Meier Trios' Breeze. Don't miss!
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