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Steve Oliver: First View

With plucky, expressive guitar play and a propensity for percussive vocalese, Steve Oliver proves a capable and adaptable front man on First View (Native Language 0916-2; 44:26). From jumpy guitar work interspersed playfully with muscular alto sax on “Happy Feet,” to spare, romantic upper range riffing on “Highway One,” Oliver’s work remains lyrical and light-toned, emphasizing emotional space over technical runs. Album centerpiece “First View” dresses these talents in spindly licks and harmonies surrounded by sparkling percussion, for an awe-struck feel which moves forward and upward. Occasionally his play is shrouded by synthesizer conventions, as on “East Wind,” but the norm here is upbeat and straightforward, with Oliver adding a light sprinkle of vocal “noises” over the top of pieces like “West End.” The guitarist gets downright Bobby McFerrin-like on the bouncy gem “Sunrise Celebration,” singing and popping in seamless parallel to his guitar line-and perhaps hinting at his own bright future.

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