Jazz Guitarist Clinco Creates a Multicolor Impression with Neon

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L.A.-based guitarist Mike Clinco debuts on WCS with "Neon." To acquaint you with Mike, he became associated with Lionel Newman of 20th Century Fox as a session guitarist for many films and television shows. A list of the people he has toured and recorded with reads like a Who's Who of the entertainment industry. He has worked with everyone from Bobby McFerrin to Luciano Pavarotti and Natalie Cole, to name only a few. Stellar sidemen on this project include saxophonist Bob Sheppard, who toured with Chick Corea's "Origin" for two years, and is featured on Chick Corea's Grammy nominated CD "Change." Walt Fowler's (flugelhorn) credits include working with Billy Childs, James Taylor and Frank Zappa. Acoustic bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz's partial list of collaborations include Brad Mehldau, Billy Higgins, and Pat Metheny. On electric bass, Jimmy Johnson has worked with John Abercrombie, Sergio Mendes, and Lee Ritenour. Drummer Jimmy Branly has past projects with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira as well as Brandon Fields. Charlie Banacos writes in the great liner notes that "This is one of those extraordinary recordings that will please many listeners." Good advice from someone who knows his stuff!

Expertly composed and beautifully assembled, Mike Clinco's Neon is the aural equivalent of a stroll through an art museum. On one wall hangs a romantic, impressionist canvas full of vibrant color and subtle brush strokes. On the next, you'll see a naturalist painting, crisp with colors melding together in a harmonious landscape. In the next room the work is more progressive, with modern flourishes and jagged contours. Further in still you can glimpse … Well, you get the picture.

Guitarist Mike Clinco is the main man, the artist behind these sonic tapestries. An accomplished guitarist and a widely regarded session musician, Clinco boasts an impressive resume that includes tours, collaborations and sessions with Luciano Pavarotti, Bobby McFerrin, Natalie Cole, Henry Mancini, and many others.

But this time it's his turn to apply the masterstrokes and he takes full advantage, by recruiting an impressive cadre of talent for the occasion. First up is multi-instrumentalist Bob Sheppard, who brags of sessions alongside Freddie Hubbard, Randy Newman, Steely Dan, and Mike Stern on an arsenal of flutes and clarinets. Trumpeter Walt Fowler, a veteran of Frank Zappa, Billy Cobham, Ray Charles, and George Duke, lends his skillful lips and respected experience. Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz, a Polish expat who studied under Charlie Haden, is on acoustic bass. His work with names like Mehldau, Metheny, Lovano and Abercrombie says it all. Monster electric bassist Jimmy Johnson fills in the gaps with power and precision, and, finally, Cuba native Jimmy Branly brings his isle's legendary rhythmic traditions to the repertoire.

Together, the ensemble is unassailable, as even the briefest listen to Neon attests. Clinco's taste and skill as a composer--he wrote all but one of the tunes here--are mature and dazzling. He daubs in all the right colors, in all the right combinations and amounts, providing something for every listener, and every musician on the session.

The disc kicks off with "Bookends," an easy-going swing thing that features Clinco in and out of the groove, which is tasty on its own. Further down, the title track "Neon" is dominated by Clinco's sweet tone and Fowler's bright but laid back trumpet motif. The "Beaten Path" and "X Cue Says" have a clear rock flair, exhibiting Clinco's affinity for the electric guitarists of the '60s like Clapton and Hendrix. While songs like "Daystream" and "Charade" keep the mood placid and melodic. "Charade," the only tune on the album without Clinco's byline, comes from Mike's former employer Henry Mancini. The delicate melody resonates with affection; you can really feel the fondness Mike has for the emotional power of Mancini's gorgeous hook.

Interestingly, of all the amazing colors featured on the album, there isn't much "neon." Clinco, a graduate of the Pat Martino school of transcendent licks, is too tasteful for treatment as garish as that. Still, whatever he wants to call his work is OK by us, especially if it's as sublime and enjoyable as this.

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Ginny Shea
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