Takin' It There-- Graham Dechter

It's apparent that the so-called sophomore jinx does not apply to Graham Dechter, for his second CD is one of the best releases by a jazz guitarist in 2012. Dechter replaced the talented Anthony Wilson in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at the age of 19, and the now 26-year-old is once again accompanied on Takin' It There by his employers, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, as well as the orchestra's pianist Tamir Hendelman, just as they completed the quartet on his well-received 2009 debut Right On Time. Dechter seemingly has it all as a jazz guitarist. Whether playing sparsely or elaborately, pristinely or with down-home grit, Dechter's ample technique and spirited determination allow him to bring to fruition any idea his fertile imagination might conceive.

A catchy intro by Dechter and Hendelman sets the pace for Wes Montgomery's grooving "Road Song." The rapport of this quartet appears to come naturally from their long musical relationship. Dechter's surging solo displays his chops and unassuming expressiveness. Hendelman follows with soulful fervor, and Clayton's authoritative, resounding improv and bass lines in support of the others leave a lasting impression. Hamilton takes a balanced approach, kicking and prodding but also laying back just enough to give the soloists their freedom. Barney Kessel's "Be Deedle Dee Do" has a similar guitar/piano opening, leading to the lighthearted medium tempo blues theme as delivered by Dechter. The leader's delightful solo finds him bending notes, riffing, darting through single-note lines, and laying down some "heavy" chords. Clayton then sermonizes with knowing command.

"Chega De Saudade (No More Blues)" commences with zesty give-and-take between Hendelman, Clayton, and Hamilton, with Dechter finally delving into the familiar Jobim melody. Again Clayton's bass is an undeniable focal point in support, with the crisp pianist and drummer not far behind. Dechter's solo is a rapid-fire, ever changing work of art, and the out chorus by this well-oiled unit packs a serious, fully satisfying punch. Clayton's sensual arco prelude to Dechter's "Together and Apart" hints at "Never Let Me Go," as does the theme of the engaging ballad, which also evokes Jobim's "Dindi." Dechter and Hendelman exchange lyrically heartfelt solo passages that gradually reach an emotion-laden peak. The pianist then joins Clayton in understated conversation prior to the reflective, interactive reprise.

Dechter's close friend, pianist Josh Nelson, wrote the title tune "Takin' It There" especially for him. It's a bluesy line that, along with Dechter's tone on this track, reminds one at first of Kenny Burrell. His improvisation, however, enters George Benson territory in its swift, nimble phraseology and overall polished execution. Hendelman and Clayton maintain the flowing, earthy momentum in their respective turns, and Hamilton gets to stretch out heatedly on the closing vamp. George Coleman's "Father" has a warmhearted melody that invites a well-constructed, involving Dechter solo, and a rollicking one from Hendelman. Clayton and Hamilton are in inspiring lockstep, with the drummer showing off his impeccable and unbeatable brush work.

The arrangement of the standard "Come Rain or Come Shine" is as upbeat and funky as Wes Montgomery's rendition on his great Full House album, sans of course the slithery sax of Johnny Griffin. Dechter's extended solo negotiates the tune's twists and turns with verve, a persistent curiosity, and a lack of stock phrases, once more proving that he's a guitarist to reckon with. It's not every day that a musician courageously couples an original, like "Amanda," with a revered standard, such as "Every Time We Say Goodbye," but Dechter successfully pulls it off. His charming ballad, which actually at one point veers towards "The End of a Love Affair," segues neatly into Cole Porter's tune. Dechter's sensitive and deliberate playing on this selection makes every note count, as tenderness wisely trumps showmanship. Hendelman's glowing solo keeps to the same formula, and Clayton's resonant designs, along with Hamilton's exquisite brush patterns, provide a perfect foundation for this overall sublime performance.

Clayton's undulating "greasy" vehicle for Dechter, "Grease for Graham," enables the guitarist to plumb the depths of countrified soulful feeling in an assured, mature manner. Hendelman is no slouch in this department, as his assertive exploration indicates. Clayton and Hamilton are influentially with them every step of the way. Hamilton's electrifying intro and breaks during the intense theme presentation of Lee Morgan's "Hocus Pocus" do justice to the hard bop classic. Dechter prances fleetly through the changes, in total control. Hendelman again matches his dexterity and enthusiasm, and Hamilton's breakneck yet poised drum solo and organic participation during the reprise help elevate this track to the level of "must hear."

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Scott Albin