A big reason the guitar is so popular is because of the wide variety of voices it has. From quiet, nylon-stringed classicals to electric power axes, in the right hands a six-string can evoke anything from baroque beauty to breathtaking speed and bombast. Carlsbad’s Will Sumner is the kind of jazz guitarist whose playing draws from all of the instrument’s possibilities.
His fifth and latest disc is Tracks, and it features Sumner doing most of the playing (he is a fine keyboardist, and plays all of the percussion and bass, less one track). Nicely recorded with Sumner producing in Colorado and San Diego north county studios, the 11 tracks are smooth jazz but smooth jazz with something happening ‘ nearly all the tracks evolve into displays of his skill in solo spots, along with some tasty contributions on sax and keys from studio guests.
‘Samba at the Six’ and ‘A Walk in the Park’ establish Sumner’s ability to become an entire jazz band, laying out a shimmering carpet of synth effects to complement his rhythm section. On ‘Samba’ he tops an aggressive Latin melody with acoustic guitar, while ‘Walk’ throttles down, a mellower jazz feel played on an electric rig with an interlude of delicate figures. Local pianist Sky Ladd sits in on ‘Wine Highway,’ a standout track that features soaring exchanges between Sumner and Ladd and a memorable melody hook. Sumner shows he is no slouch on keyboards himself with ‘The Lake,’ a simple tune dominated by his piano solo and musical sounds imitating water pouring and splashing.
In ‘Pura Vida,’ Sumner’s versatility again comes through; he starts the up-tempo samba-rhythm tune with nylon-string chords and scales. As it moves along he saddles up his overdriven electric guitar and hits the afterburner, for some flying improvisation that recalls former Police guitar whiz Andy Summers. ‘On Target’ features some of the best straight ahead acoustic jazz guitar on the disc, this highlight ends too soon.
Sumner’s guitar breaks are fluid and inventive, and his disc is better because he lets his fingers go a bit; though not enough to make this a technique-dominated disc, thank goodness. His prowess and taste combine to enable the layered, sonic cloud tunes to click and avoid sounding like some smooth jazz elevator music.
The feel generated by ‘A Night Down South’ is that of a Mexican border town, with plenty of attitude in the percussion and the Spanish flourishes in the acoustic guitar, and fast, piercing electric riffs ‘ la Carlos Santana. Ladd is back on ‘Crystal Waves’ to provide a counterpoint to the combined plugged and unplugged Sumner, while the song surges forward in a lurching manner like real waves.
The songs on Tracks are solid and give Will Sumner a chance to share his wealth of skill as a musician and arranger. He doesn’t hold anything back, and the listener reaps the benefits.