Brad Myers can easily claim consanguinity from the ancestry of the jazz guitar aristocracy that goes back to Charlie Christian, as can Michael Sharfe trace his musical bloodline back to beyond Ray Brown to Oscar Pettiford. If this seems like hyperbole, a first listen to their recent duo and trio recording, Sanguinaria will put the argument well beyond even reasonable doubt. Both players show great respect for the tradition but their extrapolation of well-known music from major composers such as Dave Brubeck, Jim Hall, and Keith Jarrett goes well beyond the unexpected.
Both Brad Myers and Michael Sharfe are at the vanguard of a group of young musicians giving a fresh and much needed lease on life to their respective instruments by doffing their proverbial hats to the giants who set the bar at a great height. Like Olympians, they have assessed the run-up, marked their starting spots and have proceeded to clear that bar with consummate ease. Any guitarist and bassist who has played with an ensemble – or perhaps, against it – knows the feeling of a yearning for the intimacy of playing solo or in together as a duo. Both play quiet, dreamy, intimate instruments, unsuited for big stages; as poets don’t do stadium gigs.
In choosing to play with each other, or with the highly skilled drum and percussion colourists here, Brad Myers and Michael Sharfe have chosen very well indeed. The depth and quality of the musicianship is sublime and both men vault over the bar taking this music with them into a rarefied realm. One has only to sample the delights of “Sanguinaria”, by Myers, and Sharfe’s arrangement of the ineffably beautiful Steve Cardenas composition, “New Moon”. It bears mention here that while Brad Myers might have contributed original music to this venture, Michael Sharfe makes his incredible musical voice heard with each significant arrangement. Consider “Line for Lyons”, New Moon”, “Waltz New”, “Country” and also “Falling Grace”.
Brad Myers plays electric guitar on a few tunes on this programme, as does Michael Sharfe appear with an electric fretless bass, but the amplification is so discreet that both instruments – especially the bass – almost feel like acoustic instruments. And yet the music is wonderful whether amplified or not, because the soundworld is so big and embraces the richness of the instruments. Both men are as individual and distinctive as singers: Michael Sharfe’s intense and liquid tones, Brad Myers’ sunny, harpsichord-like precision; both duo partners drawing together and then pulling apart to solo; Brad Myers with silky tone textures, Michael Sharfe with a plump richness that embraces the music.
This easy-looking music on paper is often actually fiendishly difficult to play. But these two virtuosos leap right into it. They use their instruments to unearth a huge vocabulary of sounds and effects, combinable to make them sound as big as an ensemble – but with each player’s insight to deploy effectively. The range from harmonics and pizzicato to technique exotica such as ‘nut-side’, ‘nail-sizzle’ or bi-tone tapping’, plus with a battery of percussion possibilities it would seem that each instrument comes with a drum attached. Wisely, however, Myers and Sharfe defer to experts: Dan Dorff Jr., Tom Buckley and Marc Wolfley, with Dan Karlsberg on melodica, conjuring the great Hermeto Pascoal.
Track List: 1: Sanguinaria (Hopefulsong); 2: In from Somewhere; 3: Line for Lyons; 4: Waltz New; 5: New Moon; 6: Norm’s Ridge; 7: Country; 8: Falling Grace; 9: A Feeling Inspired by Maria; 10: Bentley’s Blues; 11: Great Pumpkin Waltz; 12: In Your Own Sweet Way.
Personnel Brad Myers: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, guitar bongos (1); Michael Sharfe: double bass, fretless electric bass (6); percussion (1, 5 and 11); Special Guests: Dan Dorff Jr: drums and cymbals (2, 6 and 8); Tom Buckley: drums and cymbals (5, 9 and 12); Marc Wolfley: percussion (9 and 11); Dan Karlsberg: melodica (1).