|Jim Snidero Far Far Away Featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel
Savant SCD 2207
The altoist/composer Jim Snidero has recently released his latest album Far Far Away on Savant Records. When Jim sent me an email, to let me know he was getting a copy of this to me, he mentioned that he thought it was perhaps his best work ever. Needless to say, I was anxious to hear this for myself.
Snidero is a beautifully articulate, expressive, and facile alto player in the line of a lineage that includes Paul Desmond, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, and Phil Woods.
Like his predecessors, Snidero seems to be on a personal quest. This restless man travels roads that may not often be taken by others. He experiments with varying musical concepts and alternates band configurations; he collaborates with a changing array of fellow musicians, always looking to hopefully add to the magic of the creative experience along the way. Through all the permutations, Snidero never forgets his tone, his clarity, his passionate articulation, and his vision.
Jim was raised in Maryland-Washington D.C. and was educated at the University of North Texas. If you wonder how Jim got his wonderful sound, it doesn't hurt to have studied with both the great altoist Phil Woods and multi-reedist master Dave Liebman.
Jim relocated to NY in 1981 where he cut his teeth with jazz organist Jack McDuff and where his talents became discovered. He eventually found work on the Mingus Big Band, The Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band, Eddie Palmeri, and played on Frank Sinatra's Big Band from 1991-1995. He started his own quartet starting in 1984 and commenced recording as a leader. Like many musicians, Jim has also been an educator, an adjunct instructor at the New School in NYC, and a visiting professor at both Princeton and Indiana University.
In 2021, Snidero changed his direction and went into writing, arranging, and playing on his ambitious orchestral project Strings. This project brought a whole new quartet with the inclusion of the brilliant Renee Rosnes on piano, Paul Gil on bass, the dynamic Billy Drummond on drums, and an eleven-piece string section that was led by concertmaster Laura Seaton. The music is grand and sumptious. It has a splendid melodicity and vigor that reminds me of some of Phil Woods' work with Michel LeGrand. Jim also adds some breezy flute work that suspends over his arrangement of the swelling string sections. Hard to imagine this artist has anything left to prove after this creative tour de force.
Then again in 2021, Snidero tackled a "live" recording with his latest straight-ahead, hard bop quartet of Orrin Evan on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums titled Live at the Deer Head Inn. This cooking album was named one of Downbeat's Best Releases of 2021 and I also included it in my best-of-year list for that year. The group was just on fire and the added impetus of an enthusiastic audience captured on the recording made the session all the more rewarding. What else canbe expected to come out of the fertile musical box that is Jim Snidero's mind?
On Far Far Away, Snidero changes it up again. This time he is joined by the progressive guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel along with his potent Deer Head Inn band members, Orrin Evans, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth. It's hard to imagine this group, which showed an admirable telepathic connection in the previous "live" album as a quartet, could embrace the added inventiveness of Rosenwinkel's ethereal approach to the music, but it was almost like he was always an integral part of the group. These pros simply meshed like the gears in a fine Swiss timepiece.
Rosenwinkel adds a new sense of adventure to this music with his airy creative approach. His mastery of enhanced electronic tone and his fretboard fluidity on the guitar is the perfect foil to Snidero's precise, articulate, and earnest alto. With a rhythm section like Evans, Washington, and Farnsworth these two find the table set for their dual and solo explorations.
On Snidero's opening composition, "Far Far Away," Rosenwinkel comes out of the gate with a searing synth-like opening that just revs the music into high gear. Farnsworth's roiling drum work just accelerates in sync with the guitarist bringing the music to a combustible temperature. Snidero's alto pierces into the fray on the next solo with authority and command. Evan's piano work is on target with equal enthusiasm and Washington's bass is like a stabilizing heart beat anchor to the proceedings.
"Infinity" is another Snidero composition that has the altoist opening up with a more lamenting attack. Rosenwinkel's guitar replies with his own tailored guitar lines that contrast brilliantly to the mood previously created by Snidero. The contrast between these two voices is distinct and yet complimentary. They are able to navigate the same wave they attack using different musical surfboards, plying different riding techniques, and still wind up riding through the crest brilliantly.
To hear these two attack a reharmonizing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein composition "It Might Be Spring" is another gem. This is the most traditional take on the album, with Rosenwinkel presenting his intro using the least modified guitar tone on the set and Jim's burnished, luxurious sound is just captivating. The two find common ground here and Rosenwinkel's chops are fast, loose, and a joy to behold.
There are five other songs on this exceptional album including the challenging "Nowhere to Hide," and the latent funk of "Obsession," The blues-spirited "Pat" -a dedication to recently departed guitar wizard Pat Martino- gives Evans some nice stretch-out time to work his blues-tinged magic on the ivories. Other highlights are a fleet-fingered solo by Rosenwinkel, and a potent bass solo by Washington. The swinging "Little Falls" ends the remaining Snidero compositions.
McCoy Tyner's potent "Search for Peace" is a beautiful vehicle for Snidero to ply his warm sound to great effect. Washington's pliant bass lines are beautifully on display here and Kurt's electronically altered guitar lines accentuate the mood sparkingly.
Far Far Away may just be, as Jim wrote to me, his best work to date! Let's just hope this group makes a follow-up to this thoroughly impressive collaborative recording.