Gil Parris

Strength

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After a several-year dip into more progressive, bluesy territory, the versatile acoustic and electric guitarist Gil Parris returned to the jazzy (and smooth jazzy) spirit of his brilliant 1998 solo debut on Strength, a disc which plays to, yep, all his strengths. The guest list isn't quite as flashy this time out (no David Sanborn, Bob James or Harvey Mason), but his new "musical soulmate" and producer, David Mann, keeps him in the pocket, grooving mightily (with Mann performing capably as always on sax) from the get go on the radio-friendly funk tune "Jazz Night Out." While that opening track, the breezy acoustic gem "Ibiza," and the mid-tempo, Larry Carlton-esque ballad "Together Again" will titillate fans of instrumental pop music, Parris digs a bit deeper on the moody and bluesy, old-school soul-jazz number "The Duck Walk," playing coolly alongside the always crisp, muted trumpet of Randy Brecker (and some neat retro effects). Parris experiments with some interesting scratchy effects on the playful pop blues jam "At the Metro," then digs down and dirty into truer blues territory on the frisky and soulful "If It Feels Good" -- whose hook is smooth jazz all the way but whose rich textures will appeal to fusion fanatics as well. Overall, Parris -- by mixing his hard driving electric with so many moments of acoustic sweetness -- creates a joyful balance. He's definitely happy on the pop side of the spectrum here, but the heart and depth he brings to the session help it transcend the typical stuff smooth jazz radio was playing in 2006.

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