Hear and Now
Versatile guitarist Lou Volpe is an ace picker who adeptly straddles jazz and blues while sounding authentic and at home in each. That chameleonic quality is best represented by the track “Coltrane of Thought,” which opens with an earthy string-bending motif that sounds like it could go the way of an Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd throwdown. But before long Volpe and his crew of stellar session veterans (pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Buddy Williams) pivot on a dime and briskly navigate their way through a labyrinth of “Giant Steps” changes. The bright, samba-flavored opener, “Astral Island,” carries a hint of Eric Gale’s pleasing but urgently blues-tinged phrasing, while Gumbs’ churchy comping and soloing recalls Gale’s partner in Stuff, pianist Richard Tee. The title track is a buoyant number that demonstrates the guitarist’s penchant for melodic improvisation while also highlighting the indelibly swinging hookup between Cranshaw and Williams.
Volpe pays tribute to an obvious influence on the elegant waltz-time number “One for Wes,” which is replete with some tasty octave work, while “Live Wires” is a breezy crossover number that could easily score with the smooth-jazz audience. Switching gears once again, Volpe and company head into a swinging “Blue Boppa,” which the guitarist imbues with some bluesy phrasing that reveals touches of both Barney Kessel’s and Les Paul’s influence. Volpe’s inventive arrangement of “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” employs a “Footprints” bassline, and he reveals a romantic side on his tender bossa nova “If You Should Leave,” written for his wife. The program concludes with a swinging “Love Dance,” which again finds him soloing in fluid, melodic fashion over the changes. Though he’s been around for two decades, Hear and Now will serve as a good introduction to this talented Bronx-born guitarist.