Jeff Richman & Chatterbox: The Line Up

A solo recording artist since 1986, Los Angeles-based guitarist Jeff Richman is nonetheless best known as L.A.’s top fusion cover artist for a decade’s worth of arrangements and playing on all-star guitar tributes on Mike Varney’s Tone Center label. Perhaps understandably, Richman has had more trouble finding his own sound as a composer and player-until now. The Line Up, by the guitarist and his band Chatterbox, may be the most cohesive statement he’s made among 16 solo CDs.

A mid-tempo opening title track and the introspective ballad “Window to the Heart” start the disc off tentatively, but Richman, keyboardist Mitchel Forman, bassist Dean Taba and drummer Joel Taylor don’t take long to shed the safety net. “Rule of Thumb” starts and ends with a stuttered rhythmic cadence, but a surprising middle gospel rave-up features stellar solos by Forman (on piano) and Richman. The shifting rock-to-blues sections of “Hat Trick,” plus the lighter, sashaying “Cross My Heart,” allow Richman to display diverse influences like former teacher Pat Metheny and former Berklee classmate Mike Stern.

Richman uses three strategically placed group improvisations-which stand on their own rather than sounding like filler-to offset his nine compositions. “It’s All One” shape-shifts in free time, echoing Weather Report’s most telepathic moments. Forman’s acidic synthesizer washes and Taylor’s rhythmic shell game highlight “Square Root,” and “Right Here, Right Now” is a democratic funk vehicle. Throughout the improvs, and The Line Up in general, Richman finds a signature voice by weaving tonal and textural elements of the influential guitarists he employed for the Tone Center tributes-Pat Martino, John Abercrombie and Larry Coryell, among them-into his own identifiable tapestry.