By Dave Nathan
Working together in Southern California since 1996, the maiden album of the Acoustic Jazz Quartet features a varied playlist of originals, traditional, and pop, as well as one classic bop tune. Straight-ahead music mingled with bop and post-bop chords, this is an especially fine inaugural set headlining the guitars of Jamie Findlay backed by the bass of co-leader Zac Matthews, the drums of Dean Koba, and the saxophone of David Sills. Findlay also wrote six of the seven original compositions.
While this is the quartet’s debut album, individual resumes are replete with appearances from topnotch jazz stars including Pete Christlieb, Bill Watrous, Walter Norris, and Benny Bailey, to mention a few. This experience is apparent with their handling of the musical agenda. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Felicidade” is six minutes of carefree give-and-take between Sills’ Stan Getz-influenced (at least on this take) tenor and Findlay’s six-string Ronald Ho guitar. Rather than applying the usual hard-hitting assault on the swing classic “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” the group adopts a relaxed medium tempo, offering a fresh arrangement of this well-ridden, galloping war-horse. Showing his versatility, Findlay has a somewhat long solo of his 6/8 time composition “Through All the Worlds,” with Sills’ tenor providing strong support; this time his sax takes on some of the musical garb of Sonny Rollins. But nowhere are Findlay and Sills more simpatico than on “Bye the Grace,” written by Findlay for Shoghi Effendi, the late guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. Dean Koba’s quirky drum rhythm facilitates making this tune an adventure.
The group turns hip with Findlay’s “Fashioner,” which is built on grooves put out by Zac Matthews’ bass, complemented by Sills’ soprano sax renderings. Matters are kept in hand here by the steady, challenging beat of Koba’s drums. The album’s coda, “Fragrance of Rhythm (I Smell Rhythm),” is also its most swinging, plainly based on rhythm changes. Everyone gets considerable solo time on this fitting finish to a very entertaining set by a talented group of young jazz players, but the highlight of the album is the group’s interpretation of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” featuring an especially lovely, poignant sax solo by Sills. A more-than-credible first appearance by this musical collective, this album is recommended.