A lot of good guitarists are recording these days, and John McLean is one of the better ones.
McLean, who works the Chicago area these days, has been performing for more than 25 years and has been involved in more than two dozen releases by other artists during that time. This is just his second album as a leader/composer/arranger.
Like so many of today's musicians, McLean is a multi-degreed artist; he earned his bachelor of music degree from the Berklee School of Music, and his master's from the University of Miami. Today, he teaches at two Chicago colleges.
McLean uses an interesting - and unusual - cadre of musicians on this album. His guitars are supported by Jim Gailloreto on saxophones, Zach Brock on violin, Karl Montzka on organ, Larry Kohut on bass, and Eric Montzka on drums, along with vocalist Grazyna Auguscik. They do not play simple, "loose" jazz; every arrangement is relatively intricate and masterfully rehearsed.
Auguscik has lyrics on several tunes, and she uses her voice as an instrument to support the rest of the musicians on most tracks. The combination of voice, guitar, violin, organ and sax creates a unique and excellent effect. The bass and drums keep things moving; their parts obviously are "written," and are key to the ensemble lines. The "whole" swings very nicely.
Brock adds tremendously to the overall listening experience; he's one of the best I've heard since Ray Nance, who played with Ellington for so long.
Most of the tunes are originals that you've not heard previously, but McLean also includes four standards that will bring back memories: "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," "Blackbird," "Airmail Special," and "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)."
This is a neat release. Don't let the unusual instrumentation keep you from giving it a go!