It’s About the Music
Milwaukee guitarist Jack Grassel may be the best-kept secret in the jazz guitar community (although aspiring players may know him from an instructional column he contributed to Guitar Player magazine for many years). An astounding technician with remarkable fluency and speed on single note lines and an incredibly advanced harmonic vocabulary that is on par with the likes chordal geniuses like Ted Greene and Lenny Breau, Grassel has continued to fly under the radar while quietly putting out the occasional guitaristic gem from his home base in Brewtown. It’s About the Music is essentially a showcase for vocalist Jill Jensen that features Grassel, who studied with the likes of George Van Eps, Tal Farlow and Billy Bauer, in a mixed bag of small group settings with a core group and such special guests as Paul Wertico on drums, Howard Levy on harmonica, principal string players from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and a male choir from Georgia (formerly of the U.S.S.R., not the Deep South).
While Grassel doesn’t exactly indulge in the kind of awesome fretboard grandstanding that has marked some of his previous solo and duet outings, melding his six-string prowess into the fabric of these vocal offerings with appropriate restraint, he does shine on his originals “After Orwell” (with the Male Choir of Zion Patriarchal Cathedral) and the up-tempo swinger “Gee Flat Blues.”
Elsewhere, vocalist Jensen swings convincingly on a big band arrangement of the Bobby Darin classic “Beyond the Sea,” purrs seductively on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which is underscored by an earthy and inspired harmonica solo by the multi-instrumental Levy, and strikes a poignant note on a lush “Come In From the Rain.” She also delivers the bossa-nova-flavored “Song For Your Mother,” a humorous autobiographical ditty about Grassel’s early musical development, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Grassell offers a clever twist here by combining Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema” with Michael Franks’ “Lady Wants to Know.” And an added treat is a vocal rendition of Horace Silver’s melancholy “Lonely Woman” (with lyrics by Leonard Feather) that features Jensen accompanied only by string quintet. For sheer, unadulterated six-string burn, check out Grassel’s unaccompanied 2001 outing Guitar Smoke (available at jackgrassel.com). Meanwhile, It’s About the Music offers a taste of what this guitarist extraordinaire can do.