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Jazz Guitarist Tom Guarna Leads a Dream-Team Quartet–Featuring Keyboardist Jon Cowherd, Bassist John Patitucci and Drummer Brian Blade–on "The Wishing Stones"

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The Wishing Stones – Guarna’s seventh album and first release via Destiny Records–showcases the New York-based guitarist in 11 tune-rich originals.
Tom Guarna—a guitarist whom DownBeat magazine has praised for the “emotion, tension, surprise and passion” in his music—assembled what he calls “a dream team” for The Wishing Stones, his seventh album as a leader, and his first for Destiny Records. The album, to be released on November 10, 2017, features Guarna leading a quartet with keyboardist Jon Cowherd, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, each player a renowned virtuoso and band leader in his own right. Guarna’s previous album, the hard-grooving Rush (released by Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records in 2014), garnered wide acclaim. All About Jazz said about that album: “An unequivocally modern record that focuses on both Guarna’s compositional acumen and broad textural palette.” Referencing how this guitarist’s guitarist deserves wider recognition beyond his considerable rep with his peers, All About Jazz added: “It’s about time that the secret already known among musicians finally becomes public knowledge.” The Wishing Stones is primed to make that happen, with its 11 hook-laced Guarna originals performed with warmth and elán by his all-star quartet. The sessions, produced by the guitarist, were captured at New York’s Sear Sound, the site of historic studio sessions for artists from David Bowie and Wynton Marsalis to Steely Dan and Sonic Youth.

Guarna, born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, grew up playing rock’n’roll and idolizing Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page before digging jazz and getting into Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel, and Jim Hall for the roots of the music and then the likes of Allan Holdsworth and John Scofield for their modern phrasing and expressive vocabulary. The title of The Wishing Stones was inspired by a visit to Aruba and the Caribbean island’s Rock Wish Garden, which features thousands of stone structures that visitors have built over the years as totems on an out-of-the-way beach. “Each of these stacks of stones has a story – it’s amazing to see what people have built out of desires, aspirations and memories,” Guarna explains. “You naturally wonder what each of these personal stories could be, so it led me to think about how memory and emotion also go hand in hand with music. Whether they’re romantic or tragic, certain songs touch people to the core. I’d like my songs – my stacks of stones, as it were – to have a similar resonance with listeners. That’s been a goal as I evolve, to be more confident in how I convey emotion in music, whether it’s in the writing or the textures I create on the guitar. I want to get to the heart of the matter.”

The Wishing Stones—beautifully engineered by George Shalda—opens with the pure, pensive melody of “Prelude” before moving into one of the album’s highlights, the almost filmic “Song for Carabello,” marked by a sequence of exciting solos by Guarna and Cowherd, who also shines with his solo in “Surrender Song.” On the title track “The Wishing Stones,” Blade’s drumming is a marvel of subtle drive, as it is throughout the album. “Moment = Eternity” is a reflective highpoint, including a melodic Patitucci solo. Another gem is “Hope,” captured in one take, with Guarna unfurling rich guitar lines, wave after wave. Guarna’s main guitar is a Collings Soco Deluxe, with which he achieves a glowing, quicksilver tone. “Your sound is your signature, and I’m very conscious of my sound – I hear all my idiosyncrasies in it,” he says. On The Wishing Stones, Guarna employs a more overdriven tone than previously, along with synth-like effects to broaden his expressive scope. “Native Tongue” closes the album with an electronic vibe, featuring Cowherd on electric piano and those expressive synth-like sounds from Guarna.

About the fantastic trio of musicians collaborating with Guarna on The Wishing Stones, the guitarist says: “I’ve known John Patitucci for 20 years or more. I reached out to Jon Cowherd more recently. I’m a big fan of the Brian Blade Fellowship, and Jon’s voice, as a writer and a player, is so prominent in the band’s sound. Jon then introduced me to Brian, who has also played with John Patitucci in the Wayne Shorter Quartet for years. And Cowherd has also played in Patitucci’s trio. So, I was obviously walking into a web of established relationships – they really know each other, as people and players… Brian has the ability to create motion and momentum without being busy. His dynamic range brings so much drama to the music. Guitar with piano can be tricky, but Jon Cowherd has this beautiful touch and really complements the guitar, always knowing the right time to play and the right time not to. The same thing with John Patitucci, who is such a virtuoso but always knows how to play for the song, nothing more, nothing less. And he has such a deep vibe with Brian, having played with him in Wayne’s band for so long. Playing with these guys behind me is like flying on the plushest carpet you could imagine.”

About Tom Guarna

Over the past decade-plus, guitarist Tom Guarna has established himself as a distinctive instrumental voice and band leader on the New York jazz scene. Prior to The Wishing Stones, the guitarist released the well-received Rush via Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, with that album seeing Guarna lead a quartet featuring Joel Frahm (tenor/soprano saxophones), Danny Grissett (piano, Fender Rhodes), Orlando Le Fleming (double-bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums). DownBeat critic and guitar aficionado Bill Milkowski called Guarna “an audacious chopmeister,” adding praise for his evolved writing-arranging skills with tunes from the “kinetic” to the “evocative” on Rush. A stepwise sequence of five albums on the Steeplechase label preceded that release: Bittersweet, from 2011 (with pianist Peter Zak, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Willie Jones III); Major Minor, from 2009 (with Zak, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Billy Drummond); Wingspan, from 2007 (with Frahm, Gill and Jones); Out From the Underground, from 2006 (with keyboardist George Colligan, bassist John Benitez and drummer E.J. Strickland); and Get Together, from 2005 (with Gary Versace on organ and Mark Ferber on drums). Rochester City Paper said about the guitarist’s music-making: “Tom Guarna wastes no time in drawing the listener into a musical vision as complex as it is catchy.”

A graduate of the Juilliard School, Guarna has collaborated with a wide range of artists. He was part of the Grammy Award-nominated 2012 album New Cuban Express by pianist Manuel Valera. For the 40th anniversary of the epochal Bitches Brew album by Miles Davis, Guarna joined a supergroup with Wallace Roney, Lenny White and Victor Bailey to perform the music at the Smoke club in Harlem. The guitarist has also performed with such top musicians as Stanley Clarke, Mark Turner, Branford Marsalis, Randy Brecker, Mulgrew Miller, Billy Hart, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Greg Hutchinson, Javon Jackson, Les McCann, Gary Bartz, Fred Wesley, Mike Clark, Tim Hagans, Greg Tardy, Bob Dorough, Craig Handy, Uri Caine, Chris Minh Doky, the Yellow Jackets, Buddy Defranco, Gary Smulyan, Joe Locke, the Mingus Orchestra, the Allman Brothers, Helen Sung, Tessa Souter, Jimmy Herring, Rodney Holmes, Francois Moutin and Vincent Gardner. Along with jazz, Guarna has figured in studio sessions and concerts of music from funk, R&B, Latin and pop to Broadway, gospel, and film scores. The great drummer Lenny White has said: “I sing praises to unsung guitar hero Tom Guarna. When you listen to his music and playing, no doubt, you will, too.”

This story appears courtesy of Two for the Show Media.
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