Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Review Date: June 2003
When you think guitar album, one hopes
that the artist in question has remembered to compose songs around the guitar –
or, in this case, the bass – rather than just using other instruments as window
dressing for what is ultimately a wankfest, so to speak. Al Garcia has
remembered that tenet here on Make It So. These are fully thought out
instrumental jazz pieces where the lead voice is bass, but not at the expense of
other voices. It happens that many of those other voices are Garcia, too, as he
plays also acoustic and electric guitars, guitar synth, congas, bongos, assorted
hand percussion and in the case of one track, drum programming. Joining him on
handful of tracks is Dean Rohan contributing MIDI drum performances. Chris
Garcia, with whom Al plays with in Quarteto Nuevo (a world music chamber
ensemble), guests on tabla and kanjira on "Harmonic Sketch #1," a studied and
thoughtful, yet tentative piece – quite different from the pieces that surround
it, but none the less interesting for it.
Many of Garcia's pieces fall into the contemporary jazz style, including the title track, though that isn't to suggest smooth jazz. If you are a bassist enthusiast, you will likely hear the influence of Jaco Pastorius in Garcia's playing. Garcia names also bassists Jack Bruce and Mountain's Felix Papalardi as influences, as well as Charlie Parker, Bela Bartok, Eric Johnson, Jeff Berlin and J.S. Bach – on Make It So Garcia shares his rendition of Bach's "Menuet." However, Garcia does play smoothly and fluidly; his tone is deep and rich, resonant. He is equally adept on the guitar as he is on the bass, bring the same fluidity to his guitar playing. You'd think playing all the other instruments yourself as well wouldn't result in as textured a release as Garcia produces here, and yet he does. His use of percussion, and the balance it finds with the other instruments is just right. For example, even though "The Unexpected Answer" starts out dark and moody, the addition of percussion (bongos) lightens the piece up, aided by Garcia's ruminative but not woeful bass lines. On either side of this piece we get two upbeat pieces, "On Cloud Ten" preceding it, and "The Heart Of The Matter" following – a Garcia original, not an instrumental version of the Don Henley song. "Communique" is, in part, a fiery, energizing Latin jazz piece. "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" is like a Salvador Dali painting, as bass lines stretch in a time distorted and rubbery fashion – like molten lava bubbling up. "A Bird In The Hand" begins with a brief snippet of classic trad jazz merging into a modern take on trad jazz, before launching into searing fusion. Part of the arrangement here, a combination of guitar synth and bass reminded me strongly of Little River Band's "The Border."
The album ends with the somber "Once Upon A Dream," where Garcia's slightly wistful bass is all alone but for some atmospheric accompaniment in the background – subtle guitar effects.
The production on the CD is great, resulting in a clarity that lets all the elements shine through. It is a very satisfying release sure to please bass centered and general jazz fans alike. A very tastefully done, well balanced jazz release sure to spend a lot of time in your player. Recommended.