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Longitudes & Latitudes
By Lawrence Blatt
Label: LMB Music
Released 8/9/2016
Longitudes & Latitudes tracks
1. Two Shades of Sunshine (Makawao, Hawaii)
2. Longitudes and Latitudes
3. A Place in Your Heart (Florence, Italy)
4. Hyde Park Bench (London, England)
5. Open Fields and Running Water (Huangshan, China)
6. Two Steps Down the Line (San Francisco)
7. I.M.A. (Indianapolis, Indiana)
8. Morning in Beerse ( Beerse, Belgium)
9. Upon Griffy Lake (Griffy Lake Nature Preserve)
10. The Places Left Behind (Boulder, Colorado)
11. Park Lane (New Your, New York)
12. Noches de Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain)
13. Flying Over Elis Island (Elis Island, New York Bay)
14. Slow Walk Past the Bank (Paris, France)
15. Over the Rainbow (Lawrence, Kansas)
Longitudes & Latitudes
Guitarist Lawrence has grown and evolved with every album since his debut, Out of the Woodwork (2006), and on Longitudes & Latitudes he takes his composing, ensemble leading, and playing to a whole other level, displaying an abundance of not just technique and artistry, but also versatility. It's easily one of the best instrumental albums in recent years to my ears, so immensely likable that I can’t imagine anyone staying in a crabby mood while listening to it.

Stylistically, the album sits comfortably in the "breezy jazz" genre, not slick and urban enough to be called "smooth" but also not too free-wheeling and devoid of accessibility or tunefulness to be considered straight up modern jazz. The mood of the music can best be described using the following analogy: Some tunes are a walk on a sunny beach, others are a spirited drive through a mountain pass, while some others may be a late night session with friends by a campfire, and yet others a romantic afternoon with a loved one. There is nary a trace of somberness or melancholy, although some tracks do convey gentle reflection.

Besides playing a myriad (emphasis on myriad) of guitars, both acoustic and electric, and synthesizer, Blatt brought in some stellar talent to join him on the album. Since Will Ackerman (who produced the album) and Tom Eaton had a hand in the recording, you can guess who some of the guest stars are, and I will list them in a bit. Corin Nelsen also worked on the album (behind the board) as did Gary Mankin. Every track sounds fantastic, which is a big "duh!" given not just Eaton/Nelsen, but also Blatt's history of insisting on flawless production quality. Now, on to the guests (it's a long list): Kelly Park (piano and drums), Premik Russell Tubbs (sax and ewi), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Sam Bevan (acoustic and electric bass), Kori Linae Carothers (piano), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn and trumpet), Melecio Magdaluyo (alto sax), Marc Shulman (electric guitar), Eugene Friesen (cello), Noah Wilding (vocals), Charlie Bisharat and Lila Sklar (violin), Jim Rothermel (alto sax and clarinet), Tom Eaton (Hammond B3 organ) and Will Ackerman (acoustic and electric guitar). Whew! Three of the fifteen tracks are solo, featuring just Blatt on one guitar, except for the closing "Over the Rainbow" on which he plays ukulele. It is also the only song that Blatt did not compose on the album.

Despite the album's title, this is not a world fusion recording in the usual sense, although track titles would seem to indicate otherwise. In the liner notes, Blatt does state that the album was "…inspired by the beauty and diversity of our diverse and rich planet." Each song title is annotated with a particular city or location on Earth and, of course, its longitude and latitude. Returning to my earlier statement about the recording's jazzy nature, I was reminded at times of jazz from the late 50s through the early 70s (and one track goes back to the 30s), as some of the rhythms have a subtle bossa nova feel to them, which is as close as it gets to world beat music (with one distinct exception which I will note later). I can't really draw any "similarities" as I do in some reviews, although maybe I hear some Return to Forever at times, or some early era Spyrogyra (minus their more dramatic and funky aspect). What is present throughout the recording is superb musicianship by everyone involved, whether the track is fun and infectious (the opening "Two Shades of Sunshine"), romantic and gently rocking ("A Place in Your Heart") or fiery and passionate ("Noches de Barcelona" which is the one overt world music piece on the album, thanks to the presence of charengo guitar and violin, as well as the music itself).

With fifteen songs on the album, I can't give details on every one, but one of the big highlights for me is "Flying Over Ellis Island" which after a slow start, picks up the pace and evokes comparison to the music made popular by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli at Hot Club de France (the 30s reference I mentioned earlier). The song cooks, swings, sways, and induces many a grin and much toe tapping. The title track has a more contemporary sound, with a bouncy midtempo rhythm played out by Haynes with Park's piano traipsing playfully alongside Blatt's guitar lead. "Upon Griffy Lake" benefits from some of Wilding's best vocals (from among her appearances on so many Imaginary Road Studio recordings) blending perfectly with the gently swaying pace of the piece. I want to mention one specific thing about this song as it also represents what makes Longitudes & Latitudes the fantastic album it is. Deep in the mix, but still easily discernible, is Blatt playing some chords on Gretch electric guitar, which adds a subtle hint of urban jazziness that fits in so perfectly that one can't help but muse "But of course, that's a nice musical touch." It is this strict attention to detail that populates every track on the album, where no note is extraneous, every mix and mastering is flawless, and the captivating melodies draw the listener into a gentle or playful embrace from the outset. No doubt it sounds like I am gushing, but as I stated earlier, this is a fantastic album of instrumental music, and one of my absolute favorites from the last few years (and likely will remain a favorite for a long time). How Blatt will top this album, I don't know, but I do know he's gonna try, because that's just what he does.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 11/18/2016
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