Two years ago, guitarist Ken Navarro made a statement with The Grace of Summer Light, a CD of anthemic qualities and a vigorous style of fretwork that veered far from his sweet nylon-stringed love songs of the past. It worked; it was the year’s best smooth-jazz CD. He’s back with part two, and if it doesn’t top The Grace of Summer Light, it comes close. If you embrace guitarist Brian Hughes and the late-’80s version of the Pat Metheny Group, Navarro is your guy.
Backed by drummer Joel Rosenblatt, acoustic and electric bassist Tom Kennedy and keyboardist Jay Rowe, Navarro begins his journey with “Dream So Real,” an ethereal piece with Ann Sacks’ dreamy vocals floating above it all. The atmospheric “Self Propelled” leads to “True Stories,” a complex number with angelic vocalese and Navarro’s nylon-string, steel-string and electric guitar magic. The title track finds Navarro’s classical guitar responding to Rowe’s keys; as in Metheny’s “Last Train Home,” the aural imagery of a locomotive puffing down a track is convincing. Tempo changes and new directions abound and give the song its richness. On “The Buzz,” Navarro switches gears with a bouncy tune featuring Kennedy’s bumping bass, and finishes with Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1,” a duet with Rowe.
It looks like there’s no going back to silly little smooth-jazz songs for Navarro.