On his notes to Kush, Adam Rafferty talks about how much he likes playing in the guitar-bass-drums format. Some of the reasons he lists have to do with practical and economic issues. He also mentions enjoying the extra space and commensurate responsibility accorded each member of the group, and the fact that he is working with two very different trios sharing this instrumentation certainly demonstrates that he means what he says. But while Rafferty is a very fine player, it really asks a lot of the listener to stay focused on these recordings for the duration. And while recent years have seen an increased number of guitar-bass-drums records, it remains true that the great guitarists of yesteryear tended to use organists who played bass lines on the foot pedals when they worked in the trio format. Listeners who can stay with it will find Rafferty to be a player with a lot of tools in his box.
On Kush Rafferty's approach is toward the mainstream side of the spectrum; on his New York Trio Project CD, Fifth House, it's a little more open-ended and, perhaps, ambitious. His choice of material is laudable throughout both CDs, particularly in unobvious choices like Chick Corea's "Guijira," Wayne Shorter's "Beauty and the Beast" and the title track by John Coltrane on Fifth House, or Corea's "Windows" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Kush" on the other release. Guitar aficionados should hear Rafferty, who at his best can boast fine ideas, well-conceived voicings and a nice sense of swing. Whether he can sustain as the only primary soloist over the length of a CD is open to question.
Ryo Kawasaki is a guitarist who made Reval on a trip to Estonia (the title is an old name for the country), with the participation of local players. For the most part this is another guitar-bass-drums outing, though some very conventional English horn is heard on a couple of the heads. The record starts well: Kawasaki gets off some impressive, quirky lines on his own "Maximillian" and follows with a rewarding reading of "You Don't Know What Love Is," but things slow down at that point. Kawasaki's phrasing becomes predictable on "Giant Steps" and on the several tracks where a jazz-rock-funk groove is set up, interest flags after a few minutes of backbeats, simple bass lines and single-note guitar work. See comments above about the perils inherent in this format. A whole record like the first two tracks here would be worth hearing, but really I think most guitarists should get to know some horn players.