Acoustic Alchemy

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The challenge for any smooth jazz artist over time is appeasing longtime fans with certain stylistic similarities, yet searching for ways to keep things unique and distinctive with each successive album. Guitarists Nick Webb and Greg Carmichael (the principals in Acoustic Alchemy) kept the reference point of their steel and nylon string chemistry intact while always venturing the new agey jazz trappings they became accustomed to. Their fifth album features sojourns into reggae, flamenco, blues, country-rock, samba, and jazz improvisation, adding up to their most styistically diverse outing up till that time. While never straying too far from the basically mellow and melodic strains that have attracted a sizeable following, Webb and Carmichael show more of their influences than ever before; Webb wrote the bluesy and romantic "When the Lights Go Out" and Carmichael's love for Spanish sounds shines through the spirited runs of "Fire of the Heart," which is better than most anything Ottmar Liebert has done in that area. "Playing for Time," with its wild drum fills and sense of boppish adventure, hints at the traditional side of jazz. The other remarkable aspect of this disc is the duo's use of outside instruments to complement their string alchemy. Randy Brecker's horns spice up the Latin gigs, but the real marvels belong to keyboardist Terry Disley, whose masterful acoustic and electronic segments lend the collection an amazing added energy.

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