We at JazzGuitarSociety.com are very committed to the spotlighting of guitar talent “needing wider recognition”, as the saying goes. And as such, it would make sense that we have reviewed a lot of Albert Vila’s CD releases here. It isn’t just because of his virtuoso technique which he always uses in such tasteful and musical ways, but because THE MUSIC ITSELF is so good. With his trio that includes Doug Weiss on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, “Reality Is Nuance” shows you his latest musical comments on what can be done with with 12 notes, wood and wire, and great musical comrades in arms.
“Hope” begins with Alberts’ guitar on its’ own in an expanded tonality setting that swirls from key center to key center, calling to mind the solo guitar work of people like Pat Metheny, Julian Lage, and Jimmy Wyble. He then begins a rhythmic theme that calls the trio to join him into stating the melody, with Royston’s drums overflowing everywhere, in the tradition of the best of the ECM drummers like Jack DeJohnette.
Albert’s complete command of the harmony as he goes into his solo in “Hope” is virtually state of the art: he seamlessly shifts from single notes to chord stabs always outlining the new harmony as it emerges, with contrapuntal lines constantly showing up, almost making you think that two guitarists are playing rather than one. Like with all masters, it sounds effortless and makes you think about the music and not what it takes to do it.
Also his guitar sound is what most jazz guitarists’ are always striving for: a great big ringing note with just enough reverb and echo to help them last, and a very intimate acoustic “woody” tone that makes you feel like your head is right inside his speaker.
The second track “Blue” begins with an wide interval solo guitar intro that is an expanded look at the harmony of the coming tune, which flows to the pulsating groove that underpins it throughout. The song maintains the “blue” mood that the title suggests, but is not at all a simple 12 bar form. After Vila’s ultra-hip solo, Doug Weiss plays a solo that shows why he was chosen as the bassist for the trio. Not someone whose understanding of harmony is restricted to the root and 5th like some bassists, his solo is melodic but always keeps the tunes’ changes heard throughout.
“Northern Flower” begins with a undulating guitar arpeggio-like pattern that uses a lot of open strings so that there is always something ringing – to the point that I had to go back and listen at first to make sure that there weren’t two guitars. The melody is another of Albert’s contrapuntal affairs that is the perfect sort of thing to write for a guitar trio that makes it seem more like a quartet. He constantly keeps the open strings entering in and out as he plays, muting strings occasionally to add to the sonic variety. Villa’s playing on this track really reminded me of Pat Metheny’s playing on “Omaha Celebration” or “Broadway Blues” from his break out album “Bright Size Life”, it’s just constantly bubbling excitement and motion, with Royston’s toms and side stick snare always stirring the pot as they go.
A tour-de-force of all there is to know about writing and playing a solo guitar piece, “215” incorporates all of the bag of tricks that a guitarist can use to both keep things musically interesting and have notes last as long as possible. Open strings, hammer ons, pull offs, and everything else you can think of that makes a guitar one of the most expressive instruments there is are combined constantly in this captivating piece – I can’t say enough about this, so I will just stop there and let you hear it for yourself.
My vote for what should go to jazz radio from this set is “The Loner”, a minor melodic groover throughout. As soon as the catchy melody is stated, Albert brings the band’s energy down to begin his solo, where he is always adding guide tone notes underneath to outline the harmony. The solo continues to build with the constant fire of Rudy’s drums until the melody is stated again to its’ concise finish.
The hypnotic melody of “Ancient Kingdom” is built around a 2&4 drum pattern, and features another great solo from bassist Weiss, with Albert’s own solo drawing on a lot of dramatic wide intervals – a very cool and impressive track throughout.
“216”’s haunting melody is a ballad that features Rudy’s sensitive brushwork, and Villa’s fingers literally fly though his solo. A band affair as opposed to the previous solo track “215”, the murky melody leads to an ever expanding solo until it’s restated at the end.
Doug Weiss’ melodic bass intro over Vila’s arpeggiated chord pattern open up “April”, with it’s melody calling to mind the famous jazz standard “I’ll Remember April”. Then just when you think it’s over, as a really nice and unexpected touch the track ends with the trio doing a childlike melodic “round” between all three instruments.
The bass handles the melodic tasks in the intro of the closing track “Healing”, leading to a staccato melody that calls to mind Beatles tunes like “Dear Prudence”. The staccato guitar pattern is put through what I have to assume is a “looper” pedal and then Vila solos and fills around that. (Albert actually told me later that there is no looper, it’s him doing both things at the same time, so it didn’t surprise me when he said that it took him a while to figure out how to play both parts.)
The track goes back and forth from Albert’s soloing to the staccato pattern, and then a whole new surprise section emerges with the “least dense” soloing from him. Then it’s back to the pattern which finally leads to “the big out chord”.
In short, I would highly recommend this record to any jazz guitarist for the yardstick to hold their own playing up to. There’s not much that can be done in this format that’s any better than what Albert Vila and his trio does in “Reality Is Nuance”, and this is pretty much the state of the art as far as a jazz guitar trio record goes. Using the definition of the word to be “expression or appreciation of subtle shades of meaning, feeling, or tone” then “Nuance” would be an understatement in describing this excellent record.
October 12, 2023