January 20th, 2010
By Conor Dowling
TGPer Jack Broad’s Currents is a happy paradox of an instrumental CD. While clearly guitar-driven, it steers well clear of the many pitfalls of the dreaded “guitar album”. The guitar functions here as an integral element of the music, which is in no way subservient to it: Broad’s masterful guitar work serves the compositions here, which are deftly wrought, and work successfully in their own right (one could easily imagine different combinations of instruments successfully playing these compositions, which is a testament to their ability to stand on their own).
Jack is an accomplished player and writer of great skill and musicality. Although he’s got plenty of chops to burn (and does when the moment’s right), his solos are expressive and expansive in what they bring to his tunes, never merely gratuitous. His arrangements are terrific and well considered, and reflect an updating and reconciliation of classic fusion timbres with thoroughly modern sounds. Broad strikes a winning balance here as elsewhere: When he uses a traditional fusion solo synth tone, it works beautifully along side the modern electronic sounds and drum-and-bass beats that make up a good bit of the soundscape. This approach could easily fail in the hands of a lesser producer and arranger, but Broad’s sensibilities and taste prevail here, as they do throughout this release.
Stylistically the arrangements range from frenetic jungle to downtempo and even more traditional jazz idioms. Jack has clearly paid attention to the many developments and offspring of electronica, and has figured out a way to happily marry these idioms t the modern electric guitar. Broad’s guitar work is by turns sophisticated and chromatically complex and simple and melodically direct, alternating dizzying runs with a Monkish forthrightness. Although his instrumental voice is mature and fully his own, it invokes players like Holdsworth, Frisell, and even Ribot at times.
Broad seamlessly integrates angular lines with plainly musical diatonic phrases. Far from displaying the affectation heard in the playing of some equally capable players, the results are instead smooth and effortless sounding (which belies the difficulty of what Broad is up to). His tone is equally paradoxical – warm and organic, yet modern. Jack clearly uses modern signal processing to stake out his sonic territory. His use of the guitar synthesizer, an instrument that often cloys, is compositionally effective and tasteful. If, like me, you tend to dislike what guitarists do with guitar synths, you may find yourself equally surprised.
While Currents is self-released, don’t let that fool you: There is nothing remotely amateurish or DIY about the disc (other than the fact that it is DIY). This is a wonderfully realized and fully professional release, from the gorgeous design and packaging through the writing, playing, engineering, and packaging. If you’re considering picking up the release, treat yourself to the CD – the graphics, design and glossy cardboard LP-style package make the non-virtual version worth owning.
To listen to soundclips of this CD, or to purchase it, please click here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jackbroad