by Raul da Gama
The guitarist Jeff Richman’s 2016 recording, Sizzle has been beautifully performed by an intergalactic constellation of stars who feast upon some wonderfully written and robust music that seems to have parts created just for the likes of saxophonist Bob Mintzer, trumpeter Jeff Beal, and pianist Taylor Eigsti, keyboardist George Whitty and others not to mention the omnipresent southpaw, Jimmy Haslip who has also taken on the task of producing the album. The musical content of it for outweighs the spare packaging, something that is fast turning presentation of the compact disc into one resembling a square envelop. However, it doesn’t really matter in the case of Richman’s fine disc. The guitarist plays every one of his songs with unimpeachable fastidiousness and there is much, therefore, to savour in Richman’s distinct, energetic also accentuated by the appetite of a mercurial zealot. Fortunately for him this flaming musicianship has stoked by the likes of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Haslip and the other musicians who have been assembled to celebrate Jeff Richman’s music.
Jeff Richman has developed something of a reputation for edge-of-the-seat virtuoso risk-taking. This CD is the absolute epitomé of that; a series of short pieces evoking atmospheres of fiery nooks and crannies that the guitarist seems to lure his accompanying musicians into, together to create the equivalent of the musical Northern Lights. Universal emotions are at work here; even if you leave the theme aside for a moment you will find something to enjoy, discover as well as identify with. Songs such as Hit Parade and Oracle say it best as they conjure images of rollicking, old-time jamborees that worshipped at the altar of rock. Through it all, Jeff Richman’s voice is eloquent indeed; his voicing is expertly balanced in the opening tune, Sizzle, as well as in the hip follow-up to it – Hangtown. The phrasing sings wonderfully in Sweet and in Vibe, as well as in Say It Isn’t So. The fingerwork is scintillating in Samaya and in Oracle. The lively appearance of the powerhouse of a tenor saxophonist, Bob Mintzer in Sweet and the star turn by Mitchell Forman who plays with sustaining radiance on Just 4U makes for a fitting, otherworldly conclusion to the album.
Although all of the heavy-lifting is done by Jeff Richman’s wailing guitar, much credit must go to Jimmy Haslip, formerly of the Yellowjackets. The bassist resigned his job with the highly successful band to pursue a dual career as a journeyman bassist and a producer and if anyone has carved a reputation as comfortable and burgeoning as bassist and producer Jimmy Haslip is it. Perhaps Marcus Miller as bassist and behind-the-console-ear might make a greater claim to fame than Haslip for now, simply because Miller was already associated with Miles Davis when his time came to shine as a producer. Of course, working with someone of the caliber of Jeff Richman has its privileges; a guitarist of immense talent and virtuoso technique Richman has made a name for himself with his singing style that opens up the musician to explore the more tuneful aspects of his instrument. Sizzle is a fine example of this. And it bodes well for the guitarist’s future.