Craig Sharmat – “Nouveau”
When I was contacted by Craig Sharmat that he was sending his new CD for review, I had assumed that it was a new CD from his band The Idiomatiques, an amazing “Hot Jazz Django” type quartet that I reviewed here in the past. Actually, I was only partially right, it’s a new offering from him as a solo artist but it takes his Django chops and puts them with his considerable expertise with lots of other jazz genres in an interesting and unique gumbo.
The opening track “Groove En Mineur” sets right about the work of establishing his position as the probably unchallenged king of “Hot Club Fusion”, and while I would bet he wouldn’t like that name, it’s all I can come up with to accurately describe it. Sharmat’s Macaferri Django style guitar burns over a modern funk jazz groove with popping bass, cracking back beat drums, and hip horn stabs. After stating the opening melody, there is a very hip and sort of “mysterioso” type bridge where the presence of Nick Coventry’s violin is prominent. Craig’s solo is musical and virtuosic at the same time, showing formidable picking chops that few can boast. I will say that in general I could care less about a musician’s technique if the writing isn’t there, but Sharmat’s years as a film composer has honed his writing to where there is always something going on interesting in that department in his songs.
“Line It Up” takes him to the electric guitar for a “California style groover” that brings some of Larry Carlton’s better tunes to mind. Mark Hollingsworth avails himself well as the saxophone foil to answer Sharmat’s tasty guitar lines throughout.
Then it’s time for the Parisian cafe romance style of “Melodie Au Crepuscule”, that sounds like an opening title piece in search of a Woody Allen style love movie. Craig’s guitar lines are totally interesting but never over done, as they weave their way through his gorgeous string orchestra with it’s light Bossa Nova rhythm section. A perfect song for the next time you are driving up Pacific Coast Highway with the top down on the ’55 T-bird.
“Place De Brouckere” starts as a spritely jazz waltz, and then sifts gears into a swinging funky groove. Greg Manning plays a very musical and interesting keyboard solo, and then the band shifts into “Hot Club” gear when Sharmat and Nick Coventry trade solos between the acoustic guitar and violin. Things finish out by working their way back to the waltz with Rayford Griffin playing a drum solo over the top.
“Get Your Djang On” is definitely one of the most radio friendly tracks here, with very hip bluesy melody lines throughout. Manning’s tasteful piano solo sets up Craig’s guitar solo, then it’s back to the melody giving time to let Craig burn a few more guitar licks as it fades out.
I always like when musicians pace their CDs with a sort of “sherbet course” midway though to sort of cleanse the ear’s palette to be ready to hear more, and that’s what “Indifference” does here. It’s also a sort of Parisian waltz, but is much more guitar oriented at the op, with Mann’s accordion and the beautiful string arrangement providing a musical travelogue around Craig’s instrument. The melodic sections themselves have more great guitar playing than most guitarist’s solo sections, and Sharmat’s wistful improvised section at the end is a lovely wind down for the track.
And with that, it’s time to get funky again with “Coquette”. This track sounds like what Django might have written had he been transported to modern times in a modern studio with some really great players, and Sharmat even quotes some Django midway through. This is probably the “tour-de-force” in terms of guitar playing here, with some knuckle busters that few guitarists could even hope to attempt.
“Rio Lullaby” opens with a really beautiful orchestra and guitar intro, and then the melody shifts to Ludavic Beier’s gorgeous accordina, very much calling to mind the great Toots Thielmans. This is my personal favorite here, with both Sharmat and Beier playing fabulous solos. The tune is written so as to make it an improviser’s dream with how the harmony flows – great songs always tend to yield great improvisations.
“Cutie Pie” is the perfect name for for this Hot Club-esque mid-tempo tune. A playful tune from beginning to end, Idiomatics members Brian Mann on accordion and Kim Collins on upright bass fill out the band with Sharmat, adding Rayford Griffin on drums.
“Swing This” is a sort of a modernization of the old novelty hit “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, complete with the little quaking effects around the drums. This also has a lot of radio potential just on it’s unique quirkiness, and Sharmat burns up the guitar all through it.
The record goes out with “Setting Out Alone”, which is definitely quite a bit different than the rest of the record. It almost sounds like a “ballad with a groove” track from Pat Metheny’s amazing “Secret Story” record. Hussain Jiffry’s fretless bass solo is emotional and heartfelt, and Crag equals it with his playing through to the end of the piece.
It’s really nice to hear an artist sort of do a record what sums up what they’ve learned over their careers and make it stand up as very viable and musical, and that’s exactly what Craig Sharmat has done here. I would say that this is his best work to date, and he will do really well with this record.
To purchase the CD, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Nouveau-Craig-Sharmat/dp/B07Q8Q6JBW