Greg Skaff

Zoho, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


When a veteran player working in a familiar genre steps out for a solo album, the challenge is always the same: what else you got? Show me something new.

Veteran jazz guitarist Greg Skaff’s first major gig was a five-year stint with the great Stanley Turrentine, so you know he has chops to spare. From there he worked with a range of notable names including Ruth Brown, Freddie Hubbard, David “Fathead” Newman, and Bobby Watson. More recently he’s spent time with the Ron Carter big band.

Soulmation, Skaff’s fourth solo outing for New York’s Zoho Records, accepts the challenge of “show me something new” by ranging far and wide—and remarkably effortlessly—across subgenres and flavors under the big tent of fusion. On this particular journey Skaff works with two different trios; the majority of these tracks feature bassist Fima Ephron and drummer Jonathan Barber, while a handful find him teaming with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Charley Drayton. If you wanted to point to Skaff’s influences, Jeff Beck and George Benson are obvious ones, but there are also nods to forebears as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Wes Montgomery in the variety of styles and tones Skaff explores here.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first two tracks feature the Bianchi-Drayton trio, with Skaff’s sharp staccato chords opening “Conjure” before Bianchi picks up the thread and they’re off to the races, weaving lines over and under and all around one another. “Genmaicha” rides Drayton’s intricate groove, with Skaff doing his best early Benson as Bianchi provides melodic color. The title track is where the album takes its first musical 90-degree turn, swerving into funk-driven fusion, with Skaff playing fat, slightly distorted lines over Ephron and Barber’s deep, deep groove. “Mother Root” then continues/reinforces the theme, delving deeper into the rock side of fusion.

From there Skaff and company’s nimble fingers venture into lyrical “chamber jazz” (at least that’s what Bill Mikowski calls Jan Hammer’s “Smoke In The Sun” in the liner notes), a stately, exotic take on Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine,” and the traditional bop of “Porcupine Hat” (Wes would dig this one), interspersed with a trio of heavy fusion numbers: the intense, dripping-with-distortion “Bottom Feeder,” the almost James Gang-ish funk of “Juke,” and the rippling, driving “Snake Oil,” an old Tony Williams Lifetime number written by Antonio Lloyd Newton.

Skaff and company close things out in captivating style with his own “Somewhere In The Middle East,” conjuring visions of crowded, sun-beaten alleyways with wending, atmospheric lines that dig deeper and deeper until his solo veers into full distortion before returning to the initial Eastern-inflected melody line.

Like most of the instrumental guitarists whose work I enjoy (Montgomery and Benson for sure, plus Larry Carlton and others), Greg Skaff is more about groove and feel than flash or speed. Each of these numbers is about finding and mining that groove, giving each player chances to shine while always serving the song rather than the ego. Soulmation delivers a soundscape that’s rich, tasteful, varied, and engaging, every note lit up by the energy and intention behind Skaff’s playing. I honestly wasn’t familiar with Greg Skaff before this album arrived on my doorstep; now I’m a fan.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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