Although Doc Powell made his solo debut almost 20 years ago, I first heard him in 1992 while writing a story on the Chino, Calif.-based Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL). The company then and now continues to create high-end stereo equipment but also releases CDs on the side. Listening to Powell’s raw covers of “For the Love of You,” “Sugar” and “Isn’t She Lovely” helped cement my affection for contemporary jazz.
Powell, a popular session player best known for his performances with the late Luther Vandross, has subsequently thrown out jazz, gospel, funk and rock over the course of nine albums. On his new one, Powell isn’t so raw anymore. He remains a steady professional with a playful knack for catchy instrumental numbers. Fortunately, Doc never forgets that he can play the hell out of the guitar, and here—more than any other time in the past—the player known for his electric a switches to the Martin acoustic he’s been playing on the road in recent years. His classical bent is best heard on “Together We Can” —where he plays octaves in a Wes Montgomery style while the acoustic is playing the same thing but with a different tone—and with Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” which he performs with keyboardist Brian Culbertson and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. He also closes with an “unplugged version” of King’s hit.
The best tune on the CD leads off, though, with “Me, Myself & Rio.” Powell’s infectious electric glides around like a skater on ice and he displays his scatting skills while an upbeat horn section wails in time.