After a lot of ballyhoo a few years ago, a somewhat disappointing major label debut, and the intervening experiences of playing with Diana Krall and others, guitarist Russell Malone now has another solo album-with an all-star group featuring Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, and Lewis Nash. The difference between now and then isn't so much the players he chooses to surround himself with, but rather that he's more focused and mature. Overall, his music is all the better for it.
For starters, Malone gets in a lot of different types of guitar playing over the course of the program's 11 numbers, four of which he wrote. The opener is a compelling original that contrasts dissonant syncopated intervals and a more relaxed bridge, all of which enables him to play pretty and nasty at the same time, seamlessly moving into finger twisting sequences on occasion. The title track unfolds in the same manner, but is a funky number with a tinge of country that finds him mining a decidedly more bluesy vein. Written in honor of his son, "Song for Darius" is a reflective ballad that places mood above pyrotechnics. As a closer, he plays a reverent solo guitar arrangement of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," a beautifully harmonized theme and variations with an abundance of bright moments.
Tommy LiPuma, who has his own share of successes under his belt, produced the album, which clearly displays Malone's brilliance in a variety of settings. Maybe all Russell needed in the first place was some time and a little guidance.