Steven Kirby: guitars; Bill Vint: saxophone, flute; Aubrey Johnson: vocals; John Funkhouser: piano, keyboards; Mark Shilansky: piano; Steve Hunt: keyboards; Greg Loughman: acoustic bass; Ed Lucie: electric bass; Mike Connors: drums, percussion.
Steven Kirby, a guitarist of exemplary technical quality and thorough compositional skills, is not obsessed with taking the center stage in Illuminations, his third album as a leader. He rather works hard for the consistency of the whole, a goal accomplished with distinction.
Not so prolific as we wanted to (his previous recording was North Light, dated from 2003), Kirby had the chance to record with Chris Potter, Scott Colley, Bruce Barth, Matt Wilson, Harvie S and George Schuller. Since 2006, he has been dedicated to teaching at several locations, including the Berklee College of Music, where he is an associate professor.
“Parabola”, the opening track, is a mirror of what I’ve just stated. Considerably complex melodies, validly reinforced by Aubrey Johnson’s warm voice, are arranged over attractive harmonic progressions. They take us in the direction of mesmerizing improvisations delivered by the adroit saxophonist Bill Vint, the bandleader himself, who boasts a finely reverbed sound, and the pianist John Funkhouser.
The widely known “I Hear a Rhapsody” doesn’t abstain from swinging cadences, but gains a fresh vigor through breathtaking improvisations.
A tenuous sunray is emitted during the first minute of the title track, right before shifting into a contagious Brazilian rhythm intensely mounted by guitar, bass and drums. Johnson’s voice works as another valuable instrument while Pat Metheny’s influence can be detected in Kirby’s airy sound and soloing approach.
“Beautiful Rain”, set in the form of a broody lament, can make you shed some tears through the lyrical, soft sounds drawn by Kirby, who beautifully plays the acoustic guitar. He’s well complemented by Loughman’s melodiousness and Connor’s effective brushwork. Also enriched by acoustic guitar sonorities are “A Luz das Estrelas” (meaning: the light of the stars), a modern classical piece played solo, and “Returning”, where we can hear a hint of Flamenco attached to the guitarist’s phrasing.
“Lake of Stars”, a 7/4-meter journey, pulsates with a comforting melodic-harmonic cohesiveness, anchoring in a sort of collective liberation by the end. It differs in tempo and mood from “May the 4ths Be With You”, a swinging 6/8 maneuver bolstered by an enchanting bop-based melody and eloquent solos by Vint and Kirby. The latter resorts to an ingrained distortion to vent his improvisational creativity.
Illuminations is Kirby’s best work so far and lives up to the hype.
There are diversified chops and interesting approaches throughout the recording to make us tuned from start to finish while continuing to experience the light it has to offer.
01 – Parabola ► 04 – Beautiful Rain ► 07 – May the 4ths Be With You