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June 2008

Stanley Jordan
State of Nature
Mack Avenue Records

Before you’re even halfway through listening to State of Nature, Stanley Jordan’s first widely distributed release in a decade, it’s clear that the guitarist doesn’t sound quite like himself.

Not that anyone eager to hear another recording that showcases Jordan’s signature finger-tapping technique is likely to be disappointed with this collection of original pieces and classical, jazz and pop tunes. There’s no shortage of highwire virtuosity on display, to say nothing of those moments when Jordan plays guitar and keyboards at the same time. (Turns out he’s a capable pianist, who probably should get extra points for multi-tasking.) Sprinkled throughout the album, however, are some welcome contrasts, with Jordan using a pick or his thumb, and even a hollow body axe, to conjure a more soulful and beefy guitar sound.

First off, though, what impresses is the fluid interplay that Jordan develops with bassist Charnett Moffett and alternating drummers David Haynes and Kenwood Dennard. Jordan’s technique can be so refined that his performances are sometimes easier to admire than enjoy, but beginning with an animated trio arrangement of “A Place in Space,” the guitarist sounds thoroughly engaged—and engaging. Likewise, a few standards—“All Blues,” “Song for My Father” and “Insensatez,” the last featuring bassist Dudu Lima and drummer Ivan Conti—place Jordan’s remarkable handiwork in an appealing, flattering light.

That’s not always the case. Some of Jordan’s more ambitious and atmospheric tunes never register much of an impression, though they do point to his eco-consciousness and interest in therapeutic sounds. The album ends on a breezy note, courtesy of a George Benson-tinted take on Joe Jackson’s pop hit, “Steppin’ Out.”

Originally published in June 2008
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