Picks and Pans Review: Magic Touch
These days the jazz world is full of phenoms: Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, James Newton on flute, singer Bobby McFerrin. Make room for one more. Stanley Jordan walked onstage with his guitar at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York last summer and proceeded to win over an impatient crowd that was waiting to hear Marsalis and Maynard Ferguson. An unannounced opening act, Jordan brought the house to its feet within 15 minutes. In his remarkable manner of playing, both hands range freely over the fretboard, tapping instead of plucking the strings. The technique allows each hand to produce independent lines and chords, a sound often suggesting two guitars playing at once. Jordan, 25, in effect turns the neck of a guitar into a kind of keyboard. In fact, growing up in Palo Alto, Calif., he started on piano at age 6, studying classical music until switching to guitar at 11 and jazz at 15. After graduating from Princeton in 1981, Jordan recorded his first album, selling it at gigs throughout the South and Midwest. Moving to New York in early 1984, he played on the street until he got the chance to audition for Kool impresario George Wein. Jordan has now become the first artist signed to the newly revived Blue Note label. Magic Touch has to be heard to be believed, and even then you may not believe it. While the left hand produces a walking bass line and chords, the right hand produces a clear, ringing melody. Though he is often ornate, his textures remain crystalline, his lines spidery and elegant. His Eleanor Rigby is a baroque tower of melody and rushing accompaniment, the treble line often sounding like a harpsichord. His giddy blues, Fundance, slips and slides over a finger-snapping bass line. Jordan should beware his tendency toward profusion. Thelonious Monk's classic Round Midnight is a piece in which the rests are as important as the notes. By filling up all the spaces, Jordan undermines an otherwise affecting interpretation of the song. Like Marsalis and McFerrin, Jordan can do anything he wants with his instrument; the question arises as to whether the content measures up to the technique. Magic Touch provides a highly promising initial answer. From here, everything depends on whether Jordan's muse takes him deeper into the possibilities of harmony and counterpoint or into pop-jazz razzle-dazzle. (Blue Note)
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