Steve Cardenas’ spacious guitar sound was a key element in bands led by Paul Motian and Charlie Haden, in addition to his own albums as a leader. In recent years he has also played a supporting role in equally prolific pianist Jon Cowherd’s Mercy Project, and their rapport made it inevitable that Cowherd would eventually participate in a session led by Cardenas. With longtime friends Brian Blade (drums) and Ben Allison (bass) along, this has the makings of a solid quartet.
Blue Has a Range is not a full-blown blues session, though that style surfaces throughout the nine tracks. In “Blue Language” Cardenas begins with some exquisite unaccompanied plucking, bouncing between chords and lead lines. The quartet delivers more pensive moments in the extended “Siquijor,” whose melody inspires the musicians to take liberties with tempo. Cowherd draws on the loose flow of the band to spin some complex statements here. On “Lost and Found” he sounds forceful even as he maintains a relaxed delivery.
While tracks like “Signpost Up Ahead” boast strong group interaction and playfulness, there are moments throughout where the production (by Cardenas and Allison) seems to suppress the rhythm section, relegating them to a place where they’re heard but not felt. That approach emphasizes the melodic richness of “Fern’s Guitar” and the title track. But when Blade builds up the pressure in “Highline” behind Cowherd and takes his own brief solo, it lacks a sonic presence that the music needs to take it up a few notches.