Johnnie Valentino

Searching Souls

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Johnnie Valentino savors slow, brooding sonorities, the sort that evoke dark, desperate images. He has extraordinary taste in picking musicians, as he appears here with top-flight players such as trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and reedist Vinny Golia, who is heard exclusively on clarinet and bass clarinet. The guitarist-leader wrote virtually all the pieces, played by several combinations of musicians, the best of which include Smith, who is in top form throughout. The changing of the guard produces a bit of discontinuity, although -- to be fair -- the quality of performance remains on a consistently high plane. Valentino breathes new life into two warhorses, Monk's "Ugly Beauty" and Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home," the former of which is given the guitarist's desultory treatment, and the latter of which is brilliantly transmogrified into a funeral dirge. Some of the tunes, such as "Spiritual Blessing," languish a bit too long, and the blue hue that affects the entire album sometimes does get somewhat tiring. Valentino, though, is an original voice with strong ideas of where he is going. He deserves to be performing with a regular lineup, one that appreciates his vision and injects it with a group personality. His guitar solos reveal a superior talent that merits nurturing. A close listening reveals numerous fine moments marked by real sophistication, a rare commodity.