Greg Skaff | Polaris Review
by Jeff Becker
Greg Skaff is a jazz guitarist that is creatively conveying his artistry and honest emotion in his guitar playing, showing himself to be among the leading proponents of jazz music. A native of Kansan, whose first professional job was a five-year stay in the band of saxophone giant Stanley Turrentine, has flourished as a first-call sideman in New York City since the 1980s. He has recorded or performed with Ruth Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and David Fathead Newman as well as notables Ben Allison, Bruce Barth, Pat Bianchi, George Colligan, Orin Evans, Joe Farnsworth, David Hazeltine, Mike LeDonne, Victor Lewis, Gloria Lynne, Ralph Peterson, Jr., Jim Rotondi, E. J. Strickland, Bobby Watson, Matt Wilson, and others. Fronting his acclaimed trio, Skaff has performed club and festival performances throughout the country, including gigs at the Bar Next Door, the 55 Bar, and the Iridium in Manhattan, at the Artists Quarter in St. Paul, and at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. For his latest album, Polaris, he has assembled a fantastic trio with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Albert “Tootie” Health, two NEA Jazz Masters. Carter and Heath worked together with history-making results in the early 60s on landmark recordings by pianist Bobby Timmons and by guitarist Wes Montgomery.
The eleven-song set starts with the standard “Old Devil Moon.” Carter and Tootie set up the song before Skaff enters with the melody. His tone is bright and rings with the jazz box acoustic sound. The choice of starting with a standard is a wise one, and the trio instantly settles into a buoyant swing feel. Carter and Tootie hook-up and Skaff’s solo is vigorous and fluid. His trading with Tootie is very enjoyable.
“Mr. R.C.” is built around a short motif and a medium swing feel. Skaff’s solo follows the changes clearly as he shows his technical skills with his clean picking. Carter’s solo is based on keeping the bassline movement and groove with Tootie. It is a catchy head tune and serves as a good blowing vehicle for Skaff.
Polaris is a rewarding set and is surprisingly Skaff’s first recording in the past 30+ years leading a guitar trio alone without piano or organ. The date sounds spontaneous, and Skaff did not overcomplicate things with intricate arrangements and compositions; instead, he allowed the space for all three players to listen and communicate in the moment. The result, an enjoyable guitar recording, and big feather in Skaff’s music hat and forward-moving career and recording catalog.