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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Jeff Shirley: Blue Gold

(Review 2022)

An inventive listen, Jeff Shirley’s BLUE GOLD mixes Eastern and Western music confidently and seamlessly. There’s an easy-to-spot love of musical diversity and mixing displayed in nearly every tune. And it grooves hard. It sizzles. This is an album to love. Shirley is a deft player. Throughout, there’s no halting or stalling, but instead a smooth, adept progression of notes: well chosen, melodic, with a Metheny-like flair, like that found on WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, which also features a virtuosic, well-rooted musician with an eclectic mix and impressive number of guitars. Shirley plays the gambit on BLUE GOLD. As mentioned in the liner notes and his webpage, “Jeff (Shirley) plays electric guitar, acoustic, fretless, guitar synthesizer, sitar, lap steel and 12-string guitar on this album.” Throughout, Shirley’s solos are impressive. They rain arpeggios and sparkly trills, shooting-star harmonics, and swift pull-offs enclosed in jazzy triads. And it all flows like the rush from a river’s source. In the middle songs, there’s that clean-toned midwestern Herb Ellis style. On “2n+1,” a bebop trumpet and guitar trade solos, while lyrics and vocals pay homage to Parker, Trane, and other jazz luminaires. In contrast, the songs “Nila Suvarna Hamsa” and “Cece Rider” emanate a sense of mystique and exploration with an Eastern-influenced psychedelic, folky sitar and a reverberating, snaky 12-string guitar. In “Loggerheads” and “Planet-22,” the slap bass technique is explored with a funky drive resonant of Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions album.

Speaking of world music, lots of tunes in “odd” time signatures here, 7/4 and such, but none of this sounds unnatural or forced. It feels organic, as if it cannot be in any other meter, as if this is its original center. And unlike some uncommon time signature tunes, there is always a clave, a clear and natural pulse. Shirley is a KC staple. As his promotional materials reveal, “Currently he (Shirley) is playing at places like Green Lady Lounge (5 nights a week!), with Mark Slimm, Brian Steever, Taylor Babb and Antonio Reyes. When he can, he also plays at Black Dolphin, the historic Mutual Musician's Foundation (including hosting the jam); The Phoenix; The Blue Room (including hosting the jam session); McCormick & Schmick’s; Parker at the Fontaine, as well as other venues and high-profile events in KC. These include being featured on the NPR radio show ‘12th Street Jump,’ a featured act at Jazz Ambassador’s SupperClub, numerous civic events hosted by Mayor Sly James, and more…. He teaches jazz guitar at Ottawa University as well as R.E.W. Music.”

Shirley’s array of instruments is a plus. It widens the horizon. It’s as if the listener can stargaze or road trip, while listening. This album takes you places. New places. Good ones. Give it a listen. Or go hear Shirley in person. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be surprised. It may even enlarge your world.

—Kevin Rabas & Jack Anderson

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