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The Grace of Summer Light

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Album Review

Although this veteran Maryland-based composer and guitarist is rarely mentioned among the marquee names in the smooth jazz world, few genre artists have been as consistent over the past nearly two decades in producing the mouthwatering, instantly infectious quick-rising radio hits it's famous for. Looking at the beautifully placid CD cover and considering this project's title, the listener might assume he or she is in for more easy funk pop-jazz — but instead, Ken Navarro throws an explosive curve ball, whirling 180 degrees from his usual consistency for an artsier (though still accessible) romp that draws from the progressive guitar influence of Pat Metheny. Looking back at 2007's The Meeting Place (which had a similar, lakeside cover), he truly did set this up with a thoughtful cover of Metheny's "Lakes." Here, after the gentle introspective prelude "Just Before the Dawn," he leaps into the exciting, snappily rolling "Blue Skies, Bright Dreams," which blend his crisp lines with lush atmospheres. But just when you think you're listening to a strong radio-ready pop hook, he breaks for a lengthy bass solo by Tom Kennedy before resuming the nylon- and steel-string magic. The next two tracks, the title tune and "On My Way to Somewhere," clock in at about eight and nine minutes, respectively, active and grooving meditations that care more about expansive creative development (and hypnotically so) than sugary pop. The breeze slows on "The Grace of Summer Light" for a meditative acoustic solo break, which leads to some explosive electric jamming. "On My Way to Somewhere" is, as its title indicates, a wild, almost new age electronic journey complete with synthesized vocal effects. Though tracks like this and the buoyant, similarly snappy, steadily building "Daddy-O" dominate the disc, Navarro's deeper heart and soul are revealed on the gentle and romantic four-minute ballad "Perfect Circle Sun." It's always possible that Navarro's smooth fans won't quite get this cool romp off his beaten path, and that Metheny nuts may just think their hero does this sort of thing better. But considering the homogenous state of so much contemporary jazz in 2008, Navarro's creative expansion is a true godsend — and hopefully indicative of an exciting new phase in his career.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Contemporary jazz guitarist Ken Navarro was born June 9, 1953, in Lafayette, IN; he began his career as a Los Angeles session player, working on projects headlined by everyone from Doc Severinsen to Nell Carter to Dave Koz. He made his solo debut in 1990 with The River Flows, issued on his own Positive Music imprint; the follow-up, After Dark, earned a Grammy nomination. Subsequent efforts include 1994's Pride & Joy, 1996's Christmas Cheer, 1998's Ablaze in Orlando, and 2000's Island Life. For his...
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The Grace of Summer Light, Ken Navarro
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