Catching up with John Stowell


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John Stowell, Solitary Tales (Origin). The CD's title suits the guitarist, a peripatetic performer who roams the world. I recently heard a musician say, “You never know where he'll show up." Although Stowell often plays with others, some of his most stunning work, as here, is unaccompanied. He alternates acoustic and electric guitars, but when he is plugged in he keeps his amplifier volume low and his attack subtle. The listener is more likely to be involved with the gentle insistence of Stowell's long lines and development of harmonic possibilities than concern with which instrument he's playing.

He opens with Cole Porter's “Everything I Love," mining it for chords to alter, phrases to stretch or contract and, following a contemplative solo, a coda that swings the track to a close. He plays pieces by Bill Evans, Steve Swallow and Ornette Coleman and six of his own compositions. “Funny Man," an Evans tune rarely played by others, gets a series of single-note-line runs that Stowell builds on Evans's intriguing chord structure. Swallow's impressionistic “Willow" is another highlight. Stowell's treatment of Coleman's “Blues Connotation," has deep inflections in the bass notes, time that pulses beneath the surface, and wry commentary hinting at call-and-response. Of his own pieces, “Fun With Fruit" and “Laughing River" are as intriguing as their mysterious titles. This could be party music, I suppose, if you were having a very quiet party. For full enjoyment, it requires--and rewards--close attention

In this video clip, Stowell plays a medley of two Wayne Shorter pieces,"Fall" and Nefertiti," not included in Solitary Tales.

When Stowell is at his home base in the US Pacific Northwest, he frequently performs with two of that region's world-class musicians, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop. In this video, tenor saxophonist Rick Mandyck joins them in a piece with the misleading title, “Turgid," which is on their Scenes CD.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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