Acoustic guitarist James Emery is a remarkable technician who possesses an identifiable sound and style, which is glowingly evident on this super fine release, Standing on a Whale Fishing for Minnows. Besides the somewhat paradoxical albeit amusing connotations of the album title, this recording stands as one of the top modern jazz-based releases of 1997, as Emery aligns himself with a superstar aggregation of talent, featuring drummer/percussionist Gerry Hemingway, woodwind specialist Marty Ehrlich, and bassist Michael Formanek. On pieces such as "New Water," the guitarist and Ehrlich, here performing on clarinet, interlace whimsical unison lines with bending themes atop craftily implemented rhythmic diversions, enhanced by Emery's lightning fast single note leads and altogether comprehensive knowledge of the jazz vernacular. The ten-minute multi-part opus, "Cobalt Blue," is brimming with hybrid classical/jazz overtures, augmented by Ehrlich's undulating lines and Emery's rhythmically executed chord progressions. Here, the leader directs the band through an amalgamation of enchanting peaks, valleys, and spiraling paths as the musicians produce a spirited feast for the aural senses, counterbalanced by quaint motifs and stunning improvisational dialogue. Highlights abound throughout, as the musicians also engage in slightly off kilter blues-based workouts, while Hemingway also utilizes and overlays marimbas and vibes where the band explores Caribbean themes in conjunction with the ensemble's acute sense of the dynamic. However, the beauty lies within the artist's prolific sonic landscapes and the ensemble's cunning ability to integrate disparate elements into a repertoire and presentation that sustains long term interest, as every track offers a novel glimpse of James Emery's exquisitely articulated visualizations. Highly recommended!
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AllMusic Review by Glenn Astarita