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Terrence Brewer 

QuintEssential (Strong Brew Music)

Wednesday, Feb 27 2008

There's a moment about midway through "Decidedly Mopey," the first track on guitarist Terrence Brewer's new album, QuintEssential, where the Alameda local's fleet-fingered solo gives way to a spacious ascending line that spirals up like Eli Manning's Super Bowl Hail Mary. It's plucked out of the air by tenor saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, who echoes the delicately placed notes before digging in and veering off on a breakneck solo. It's a gem of a moment — the kind that sounds scripted but isn't, and that makes jazz improvisation so ultimately worthwhile — and there are plenty of them here. Brewer is often compared to Grant Green, but might be better tagged as a less hyperactive version of a young George Benson, his bluesy jazz guitar lines retaining their laid-back character no matter the tempo. The backing band — Knudsen, keyboardist Ben Stolorow, bassist Ravi Abcarian, and drummer Micah McClain — makes the album crackle. Knudsen in particular pushes the envelope, her modernist touches recalling saxophonists like Greg Osby and Mark Turner on "Easy Way Out" and "Hymn of the Humble." Despite the solo fireworks, though, Brewer's songs linger long after the album's 60 minutes are over. The New Orleans shuffle flavor of "Blues for Katie" and the spooky diminished melody of "In Search of Mr. Mofongo" in particular stick in your head and won't leave. Brewer's penchant for sweet melodies is the album's one Achilles' heel, as things sometimes steer a bit too close to smooth-jazz airspace. But such moments are gone almost as soon as you notice them. On "5 O'Clock," for example, a too-saccharine melody disappears as McClain drops a rowdy four-on-the-floor that would make Jay-Z grab the mike, Stolorow gets dirty on the Fender Rhodes, and all is forgiven.

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Ezra Gale


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