Pete McCann, Without Question Review
A Dance of Chords and Stories: ‘Without Question’ by Pete McCann – A Music Review
by Stamish Malcuss
A dance of chords, a celebration of storied melodies: Pete McCann’s latest album, Without Question, is a collaborative effort that sees some of the genre’s finest at play. The ensemble features Pete McCann on electric and acoustic guitar, Steve Wilson gracing both alto and soprano saxophone, Henry Hey at the piano and Rhodes, Matt Pavolka on acoustic and electric bass, and Mark Ferber providing the rhythmic heartbeat on drums.
This Wisconsin-born, New York-bred guitarist and composer guides us on a tour through his musical psyche with the support of a band rich in texture, color, and emotion. It’s a blend of innovation and reverence, a celebration of jazz’s storied past and a daring glimpse into its vibrant future. From the driving momentum of the title track to the introspective echoes of an era marked by a global pandemic, McCann’s artistry unfolds like a well-written novel, each chapter a new revelation.
Without Question, the title track of Pete McCann’s latest offering, is nothing short of a melodic odyssey. Propelled by an up-tempo beat, it’s at once forward-looking and steeped in the jazz tradition, a rich confluence of past and present. McCann’s guitar playing is a lyrical river of notes, winding through the musical cityscape with fluid grace. His connection to jazz’s foundational roots beams through every chord and phrase, illuminating his path as a modern maestro who reverently pays homage to the giants of yore.
The warmth of his semi-hollow box guitar creates an inviting acoustic tone, resonating with an impressive clarity that’s as textured as it is smooth. McCann’s right-hand pick attack defines each articulation, while his left-hand mastery—his deft employment of hammer-ons and pull-offs—shapes his phrasing into something akin to spoken poetry. Together, they weave a musical tapestry that’s at once complex, accessible, and entirely McCann.
His artistry is not only a continuation of the jazz tradition but an individualistic expression of it, resonating with those new to jazz and aficionados alike. McCann is a modern jazz guitarist who, rather than simply dwelling in the roots of the genre, grows from them, stretching towards the sun.
When a music maestro such as John Abercrombie passes, he leaves behind an echo, a resonance of sorts, and McCann has found a way to capture this essence in ‘I Can Remember.’ The song is like a gently whispered conversation between the two musicians, with McCann’s warmly toned electric guitar, imbued with reverb and a touch of delay, emulating Abercrombie’s distinctive tone. In his solo, McCann channels Abercrombie’s knack for connecting chord changes with elegant melodies, employing jazz blues language, bends, and double stops to build the texture of his ideas. The maturity in McCann’s solo is evident as he masterfully plays with space and defined phrases, valuing silence just as much as the notes themselves.
On to ‘Trifecta,’ and you find yourself enmeshed in a musical jigsaw, where each piece, a rhythmic dot of a motif, melds into a complete image, infused with a world jazz texture. Harmonies from three key centers (C, Ab, E), each a major third away from the other, glide into the melody, lending the song its exotic quality. It’s musical audacity at its finest: daring, bold, yet still making perfect sense. McCann’s instrumental wizardry is on full display here, as he uses both electric and acoustic guitars to shade various sections, crafting a rich tapestry of sound. His guitar solo, accentuated by a warm distortion, is a stirring jazz fusion exploration, a whirlwind of passion and intensity. Demonstrating his continual growth as an artist, McCann’s use of sweep picking and two-hand tapping adds modern flair and attests to his ongoing mastery of contemporary musical techniques.
Hindsight’ is an outstanding composition that serves as an exemplary platform for this ensemble. With a form that artfully interweaves modal chordal colors with a fluid harmonic progression, this swinger impresses from start to finish. Pavolka and Ferber set the stage with a buoyant swing at an up-tempo pace, laying a rhythmic foundation that propels the solo section. Hey then moves into the spotlight, his piano solo intricate yet utterly smooth, each note resting comfortably in the rhythmic pocket.
McCann picks up the baton, embracing the last motif from Hey and weaving it into a breathtaking chapter of modern guitar mastery. His pacing, phrasing, and exploration of melodic and harmonic hues are nothing short of poetic. Even after two captivating minutes of soloing, McCann continues to dance with the motif, never losing sight of its thematic core. It’s a performance that resonates, a musical conversation that speaks volumes about the depth and artistry of all involved.
“Lovely Thing,” McCann’s tribute to the late saxophonist Lee Konitz, is a refreshing dance of melodies. It’s a well-crafted contrafact on “What Is This Thing Called Love,” where McCann’s guitar seems to take on a life of its own, delivering a performance that’s equal parts spirited and serene. It’s not just a nod to Konitz’s enduring legacy; it’s a continuation of the conversation in the language of jazz.
In “Blues for O.M.,” we witness McCann’s versatility as he constructs an intriguing homage to French composer Olivier Messiaen, utilizing the fourth mode of limited transposition in a blues form. The result is a deliciously unconventional take on the well-worn path of the jazz blues progression, peppered with enticingly avant-garde twists.
“Erase the Hate,” the album’s final track, ends the musical journey on a note of introspection. It’s a plea for compassion and understanding, a call for unity that’s as poignant as it is powerful. A perfect cup of espresso indeed, leaving the listener with a lingering aftertaste of hope.
All in all, Pete McCann’s Without Question is an outstanding listen, serving as a compelling documentation to the breadth of McCann’s creativity and the depth of his guitar mastery. It is a journey that leaves you enriched, expanded, and eagerly awaiting the next adventure. It’s an album without question, as the title suggests, that McCann is an artist who has found his voice and is using it to make a significant contribution to the jazz landscape, Without Question.