If there is one instrument in the world that tempts its players to display their technical prowess, to throw in gobs and gobs of pyrotechnics, to barrage the listener with lightning-quick arpeggios, riffs, and licks that can challenge the ears of the gods, it is the guitar. (OK, I know that it’s actually the accordion, but I’m trying to make a point here.) Plugged into an amplifier, a half dozen effects boxes at his feet, the seduction to show off one’s chops is the equivalent of the sirens’ song for guitarists, a temptation not meant for mere mortals.
Pier Groove, by guitarist Will Sumner is, thankfully, devoid of any such guitar excess. Sumner eschews the temptation to go for flashiness or facile displays of ability. Instead, the CD of ten pleasant pop-oriented instrumentals, Sumner’s sixth recording release, is a fine example of a guitarist who goes for restraint, even when the amp is turned up a notch and several of those effects boxes are in full swing. Sumner also played percussion and keyboards for Pier Groove and shows similar discretion with these instruments.
Jason Weber joins Sumner on several of Pier Groove’s tunes. A versatile and astute player, Weber adds that “just right” sound with his saxophone, sometimes bringing in a David Kozesque looseness, sometimes adding a David Sanbornesque power and thickness. On “Sultry Sunset” he plays the soprano saxophone. Executing his part with rock-solid intonation and fluidity, I could have sworn it was Kenny G. (For those prone to diss Kenny G., say what you will, the dude knows the soprano backward and forwards.) Kali Ross-Ma’u plays steel drums on “Tropical,” a bouncy tune that combines an “island” theme with a contemporary groove.
Though the compositions’ titles on Pier Groove seem to coalesce around the themes of love and the outdoors, the music itself is an exercise in contrasts. Offering a sort of yin/yang, wet/dry divergence, “Rivers” and “Mojave” open this disc. “Rivers” is upbeat and splashy, while “Mojave” is austere, almost stark, and befits the arid landscape of the Southwest desert.
“Moment’s Notice” is built around a five to seven note riff set in a minor key. Based on a driving beat, it is something of a rocker, while the following tune, “Love Song,” is not so much a song as it is a soft, somewhat introspective series of almost ethereal sounding chord changes. It is probably pretty close to the love song that Walter Fagan and Donald Becker would create if the Steely Dan dyad ever fell in love with each other.
The title tune, “Pier Groove,” is breezy and light, evoking a lazy afternoon on a pier watching the gulls and waves. Sumner wrote all ten compositions on Pier Groove; he produced the disk as well. Recorded at Keith Taylor’s Custom Taylored Studios in Fountain Valley, the recording is crisp, clean, and polished to a fare-thee-well.