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Royce Campbell: All Ballads and a Bossa

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Last April, when Royce Campbell took part in a Smithsonian-sponsored tribute to Wes Montgomery in the nation’s capital, the veteran guitarist paused a moment to explain how much delight he derives from playing ballads. Lest anyone doubt it, his performances of “Body and Soul” and “Darn That Dream” offered eloquent testimony.

A companion to Campbell’s 2009 trio release All Standards … and a Blues, this quartet session combines well-known (and not-so-well-known) ballads with original pieces that have a similarly romantic or soulful bent. You won’t find the aforementioned pop favorites here, but there’s no shortage of sublime archtop guitar recitals, including haunting performances of “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.”

At times Campbell’s touch, tone or technique bring to mind the influence of Montgomery and Joe Pass-in the past, he’s devoted entire albums to saluting their legacies. But what stands out far more often is a keen appreciation of the melody at hand, an awareness shared by Campbell’s Washington, D.C.-based bandmates, pianist Tony Nalker, bassist Tom Baldwin and drummer Tony Martucci.

The tunes sometimes provoke a chamber-jazz intimacy, with Baldwin picking up his bow, Nalker displaying his classical grounding and Martucci fashioning subtly textured accompaniment. As for the album’s promised Brazilian charmer, Campbell’s “Little Bossa” engagingly fills the bill. Yet nothing seems to inspire Campbell and company more than the contributions of Billy Strayhorn, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn and other American masters.

Originally Published