Los Angeles-based guitarist Jeff Richman has produced, arranged and appeared on a string of Tone Center all-star compilations and tributes (to John Coltrane, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Santana and Jeff Beck) since 2002. His solo-recording catalog is deeper, but those dozen releases are under the radar by comparison. His latest, Aqua, points out why. Despite its all-star supporting cast, its availability is limited to the Internet as Richman ponders label affiliation.
The guitarist has always gravitated toward the ocean, and Aqua has a purposefully liquid feel, even in odd time signatures. Former Yellowjackets drummer Will Kennedy introduces the opening “Everything About You,” a hypnotic wave of 3/4 time anchored by bassist Abraham Laboriel. Frequent bandmates at the Baked Potato in Los Angeles, keyboardist Mitchel Forman and drummer Simon Phillips help the guitarist conjure imagery of Hawaii on “Kahuku.” Steel drummer Chris Wabich aids the islandic theme, which shifts between 4/4 and 5/4.
Other pieces find firmer footing. Jeff Beal’s Miles-ish muted trumpet drives “Priceless”; Brandon Fields’ saxophone the suitelike “The Big Step,” one of the few tracks Richman plays a Fender Stratocaster on. Most feature his Sadowsky Jim Hall model, which especially aids the lighter tunes with bassist Dean Taba on upright. Both the contemporary “Peace of Work” and the lone cover, Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” have feels akin to the most introspective work of Jeff Beck, Richman’s hero. Both also feature Phillips, a former Beck drummer.
On the Tone Center tributes, Richman holds his own alongside recruited guitar heavies like Steve Lukather, Frank Gambale and Al Di Meola. Richman purposely lightened his usual fusion approach on Aqua to give it a flowing quality, but it still sounds less like Weather Channel soundtrack music than some of these guitarists’ efforts.