Guitar Smoke, Jack Grassel's tenth album as a leader, is a daring foray into the world of unaccompanied guitar, a foray where Grassel emerges as conqueror. The album is sponsored by the makers of Grassel's axe, the Hofner Guitar Co. of Germany. The result is a clear, resonant sound which enhances the guitarist's superior technical skills and, most importantly, allows him to express his obvious delight with the music he's playing. With a program split right down the middle between Grassel material and standards, he shows the influences of those he studied with, especially those two masters of the stringed instrument, George Van Eps and Tal Farlow. Grassel combines innovative harmonic ingenuity with a relatively gentle touch, even when working in fast tempos. His imaginative extemporization and excellent execution abilities are brought to bear on such tunes as John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," where he mixes the jagged rhythms and meditative flows that often characterized Coltrane's work. Grassel's compositions are well within the framework of the mainstream jazz tradition. It's clear that with such pieces as "Kissing the Princess," Grassel favors strong melodic lines which allow him to fly in and around the melody line, landing intact. On a tune like "Nuages," Grassel gives the impression there are two guitars on the set, engaging in a musical conversation. It's not all quick-time playing on this CD by any means. "Turning Back" is a quiet, introspective piece that allows Grassel to linger over some favorite licks. This album should establish the Wisconsin native as one of the pre-eminent guitar players on the current scene as he achieves virtuosity without resorting to "cheap thrill" technical wizardry. Recommended.
AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan