It is a rare pleasure to hear an obscure recording and realize you are listening to an excellent jazz musician. Such is the case with this trio recording by guitarist Vince Lewis. Track by track, on Better Than Ever, a collection mainstream jazz with a focus on standards, he demonstrates why he belongs on stage among the name jazz guitarists of our day.
Lewis' approach is not a flashy, attention-seeking style, but an art built on the solid craftsmanship of dedication to detail. His casual shifts from single-note soloing to chordal phrasing are notable for the rhythmic ease in which he builds extended solos, as is his mastery of a wide range of mainstream styles from blues to swing to bossa nova to bebop.
Lewis moves easily among the diverse challenges of these styles without the chopped phrasing and rhythmic stumbling of so many of his contemporaries. The fluency and flexibility of his solos would not be possible without a deep knowledge of the possibilities of the instrument; his rhythmic and harmonic sophistication partially accounts for why this long guitar trio recording remains engaging throughout.
The second track, "On Green Dolphin Street, provides an excellent introduction to the trio: Lewis spins out a long solo statement, punctuated by many fine fills by drummer Rick Justice. Bassist Jim Martin demonstrates that there are three notable soloists in the trio. This tight, empathetic group accompanies Lewis with a low-key sensitivity to the nuances of the music. Better Than Ever is not a hit-and-miss recording with a few strong tracksthe playing is consistent and of high quality. Other highlights include an up-tempo "It Might As Well Be Spring and an imaginative version of "Jitterbug Waltz.
Vince Lewis learned his craft in the jazz venues of Charleston, West Virginia, a place many would think unlikely for a significant talent to emerge. But Lewis reports that for a long time Charleston has been a lively jazz world that has often surprised touring musicians with its sophistication. All three musicians are from West Virginia, and their association dates back to the late 1960s, which partially accounts for how well they play together.
Better Than Ever was recorded in St. Albans, West Virginia; both the mix and the sound quality are professionally accomplished. In summary, this is a highly recommended recording by a guitarist who should be a widely recognized musician in the world of jazz.
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Personnel: Vince Lewis: guitar; Jim Martin: bass; and Rick Justice: drums.