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ACOUSTIC JAZZ QUARTET Acoustic Jazz Quartet (Naxos Jazz 86033-2)
The blend of tenor saxophone and acoustic guitar is a beguiling one, and the Californian Acoustic Jazz Quartet exploit it with great skill. Guitarist Jamie Findlay takes most of the composing credits, providing a neat, airy band with everything from 6/8 bustles and sly blues to vigorous groove music. But it is saxophonist David Sills who really impresses, his smooth, warm sound the perfect complement to Findlay's playing. With bassist Zac Matthews and drummer Dean Koba providing strong but supple support, this is light, unfussy yet cogent music from an extremely promising band.
We require several things of acoustic jazz bands but complete avoidance of electricity isn't one of them. So we weren't offended that Jamie Findlay plays Stratocaster on the Acoustic Jazz Quartet's eponymous recording on Naxos (the international, mostly classical label that pays particular attention to Los Angeles musicians). In fact, we like the natural sound that Findlay gets from his instrument: It rings well with drummer Dean Koba's cymbals and provides trampolinelike resiliency for David Sills' weighty tenor. This gathering of locals comes out of the guitarist's connections through USC. where as an instructor he ran into both Koba and bassist Zac Matthews. Both Sills and Koba have been members of pianist Cecilia Coleman's excellent quintet (another fine acoustic outfit), and the group, by the sound of the album, shares a vision of swing, taste and execution. Findlay, playing real acoustic guitar, tracks Sills' tenor in pointillistic fashion on Findlay's graceful "Bye the Grace," and even Mal Waldron's old warhorse "Soul Eyes" is given sharp focus. This foursome reflects the true heart of West Coast jazz in the '90s: no nonsense, straight-ahead but not strait-laced and willing to revel in the mellowness that 300-plus days of sunshine and warmth impart to personality. In other words, the Acoustic Jazz Quartet is cool. At Rocco, Fri., Aug. 27.
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Acoustic is the Key . . . Almost. The Acoustic Jazz Quartet is a smart group of young musicians with a sound as fresh and forward as a strawberry bursting on the roof of your mouth. Their self-titled debut starts swinging and never stops. Perpetual Mouvement.
A Known Entity.
Tenor and Soprano Saxophonist David Sills made his Naxos Debut in 1998 with Journey Together (Naxos Jazz 86023-2). His style was an updated Stan Getz/Lester Young combination that strained through his education and experience provided some of the most enjoyable tenor music to be released by the Naxos Jazz Label. Sills has a meticulously manicured tone that reflects much listening and practice. He joins a young and accomplished guitar-based rhythm section lead by guitarist Jamie Findlay.
Findlay, whether playing acoustic or electric, provides a seamless foil to Sills. He too has a perfect tone and performance. Together they share a warmth and sincere empathy that is immediately appealing. I have played this disk many times and my colleagues that have stopped by to listen to it all liked it, jazz enthusiast or not (a good sign!). The consensus disk center of gravity is bassist Zac Matthews' blues, "Just Like It's Always Been". The Quartet wisely opens its disk with this good natured romp that immediately gets the listener's attention. The remainder of the disk continues in the same seamless and comforting vein (check out the half-time stroll "Stompin' at the Savoy").
A Baker's Dozen
Acoustic Jazz Quartet should be included in the Baker's dozen of Naxos Jazz Releases. White-hot recommendation.
-C. Michael Bailey
A quartet with a front line of saxophone and guitar is not a particularly common jazz combination. With a few first-rate exceptions, that is - the LA. Four, Charles Loyd's group with John Abercrombie, and Pat Metheney's partnership with Michael Brecker.
Add the Acoustic Jazz Quartet to the list. The locally based ensemble - with guitarist Jamie Findlay, saxophonist David Sills, bassist Zac Matthews and drummer Dean Koba - is producing music that makes the most of the intriguing sound potential of the guitar-tenor saxophone coalition. Friday night, before a full house at Rocco's in Bel-Air, the Acoustic Jazz Quartet celebrated the release of its eponymously titled new CD with an attractive program of thoughtfully arranged, well-played music.
The pressure in this sort of instrumentation is obviously on the guitarist, who is obliged to provide harmony, melody and rhythm, sometimes individually, often collectively. And Findlay, a teacher and a performer, covered the various demands with ease. On Groove-oriented pieces such as Matthews' Just Like It's Always Been, he tailored his sound and his articulation to fit the push of the rhythm; on gentler lines such as Antonio Carlos Jobim's Felicidade, he took a more acoustic path, generating a subtle undercurrent of bossa nova.
Sills, one of several important young Southland saxophonists, played with the big-toned sound and harmony-defining improvisation that are his stock in trade. His interaction with Findlay, filled with mellow timbres and surging melody lines, was the quartet's defining quality.
Matthews, who co-leads the group with Findlay, played several athletic solos clearly defining his technical virtuosity. But he was equally effective as a section player, generally working well with Koba.
As a team, their only flaw was an occasional tendency to fall into repetitious rhythmic patterns, an accompaniment style that failed to match the imaginative interplay between Findlay and Sills. At their best, however, the quartet had the characteristics of a promising unit, one with considerable future potential.
- Don Heckman
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Southern California isn't nearly the hub of jazz activity that is New York's downtown scene, but those who have lasted past the initial glitz and allure of Tinseltown, like the Lounge Art Ensemble, Los Angeles Quartet, and the Benn Clatworthy Quartet, have definitely earned their place. Drummer Dean Koba, saxophonist David Sills, guitarist Jamie Findlay, and bassist Zac Matthews, also known as the Acoustic Jazz Quartet, are four other musicians who have made their mark playing local southland clubs, which are few and far between. Sills and Koba, in particular, are two young players that those outside Los Angeles should definitely be hip to. They are both poised to break out and step up to another level, so better hop on now because seats on their bandwagon are filling up fast.
The music on their self-titled Naxos debut is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, but Jobim's Felicidade and Findlay's original Bye the Grace are two of it's runaway winners. Felicidade shows just why Sills is one of LA's finest Tenors. Joe Henderson's influence hangs over sills' playing slightly, but the tenor saxophonist wisely puts his own spin on things and makes the tune all his own, weaving one robust solo after another. It is the foursome's easygoing delivery that charms the listener for a relaxed Bye the Grace. Findlay is in top form, effortlessly retaining the mood with rhythmic playing that is delightful to be a part of. Sills feeds off that, and with stellar support from both Matthews and the incomparable Koba, the tenor swings with and edge and cool that lets him stand way above the crowd of young saxophonists, many of whom grace the rosters of major labels.
The Acoustic Jazz Quartet, along with the groups mentioned before, is legitimizing jazz music in the City of Angels. This quartet definitely deserves more national media recognition.
- Fred Jung
The Acoustic Jazz Quartet, which can often be heard at Rocco's and other local clubs, consists of guitarist Jamie Findlay (who teaches at Musician's Institute), tenorman David Sills, bassist Zac Matthews and drummer Dean Koba. Their set for Naxos (416 Mary Lindsay Polk Drive, Suite 506, Franklin, TN 37067) is an excellent example of their appealing group sound and strong improvising skills.
Findlay's airy and light guitar blends in quite well with Sills' cool-toned tenor. The group's originals (six by Findlay and a blues by Matthews) have quirky melodies and often-tricky chord changes that fir the band's sound well and the overall results are straightahead but unpredictable. In addition to the newer material, the quartet plays Jobim's Felicidade, a slower-than-usual Stompin' At The Savoy and Soul Eyes.
This is a CD that has so much subtlety, creativity that it grows in interest with each listen.
- Scott Yanow
Working together in Southern California since 1996, the maiden album of the Acoustic Jazz Quartet features a varied playlist of originals, traditional, and bop, as well as one classic bop tune. Straight-ahead music mingled with bop and post-bop chords, this is an especially fine inaugural set headlining the guitars of Jamie Findlay backed by the bass of co-leader Zac Matthews, the drums of Dean Koba, and the saxophone of David Sills. Findlay also wrote six of the seven original compositions. While this is the quartet's debut album, individual resumes are replete with appearances from topnotch jazz stars including Pete Christlieb, Bill Watrous, Walter Norris, and Benny Bailey, to mention a few. This experience is apparent with their handling of the musical agenda. Antonio Carlos Jobim's Felicidade is six minutes of carefree give-and-take between Sills' Stan Getz-influenced (at least on this take) tenor and Findlay's six-string Ronald Ho guitar. Rather than applying the usual hard-hitting assault on the swing classic Stompin' at the Savoy, the group adopts a relaxed medium tempo, offering a fresh arrangement of this well-ridden, galloping war-horse. Showing his versatility, Findlay has a somewhat long solo of his 6/8 time composition Through All the Worlds, with Sills' tenor providing strong support; this time his sax takes on some of the musical garb of Sonny Rollins. But nowhere are Findlay and Sills more simpatico than on Bye the Grace, written by Findlay for Shoghi Effendi, the late guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. Dean Koba's quirky drum rhythm facilitates making this tune an adventure. The group turns hip with Findlay's Fashioner, which is built on grooves put out by Zac Matthews' bass, complemented by Sills' soprano sax renderings. Matters are kept in hand here by the steady, challenging beat of Koba's drums. The album's coda, Fragrance of Rhythm (I Smell Rhythm), is also its most swinging, plainly based on rhythm changes. Everyone gets considerable solo time on this fitting finish to a very entertaining set by a talented group of young jazz players, but the highlight of the album is the group's interpretation of Mal Waldron's Soul Eyes featuring an especially lovely, poignant sax solo by Sills. A more-than-credible first appearance by this musical collective, this album is recommended.
- Dave Nathan
Nothing fancy or startlingly new here. What the Acoustic Jazz Quartet bring to the table is honest, no nonsense straightforward mainstream jazz. They swing, through Benny Goodman's Stomping At The Savoy and perform dashingly on Jobim's Felicidade and Mal Waldron's classic, Soul Eyes. Guitarist Jamie Findlay, saxophonist David Sills along with bassist Zac Matthews and drummer Dean Koba may not be household names but these are seasoned pro's with plenty of chops and fortitude! Jamie Findlay demonstrates his fine compositional skills on 6 of the 10 tracks as bassist Zac Matthews' composition Just Like It's Always Been opens the set in uptempo and swinging fashion. Special merit to NAXOS not only for their uncanny knack with finding and/or showcasing new talent but also for their business as usual superior sound productions.
Recommended. * * * 1/2
- By Glenn Astarita
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