Stanley Jordan’s virtuosic talent has been both a blessing and a curse. Jordan burst onto the scene in the mid 1980s with his critically acclaimed CD Magic Touch. That album introduced a lot of listeners to a stringed-instrument technique called tapping. Now, I’m not going to attempt to get to technical, but the simplest explanation is probably the best for someone who is not a technician: Basically, Jordan played the melody and the chords and it sounded like two guitars. Magic Touch also showed that Jordan was also a creative player who could improvise on jazz tunes like “Freddie Freeloader” and “Round Midnight,” could display a John Coltrane like sensitivity on ballads such the Thad Jones standard “A Child is Born,” and produce jazz versions of pop tunes such as “Elanor Rigby” and “Lady in My Life” that didn’t sound like elevator music.
Jordan was supposed to be the next big thing, and he’s produced a string of albums since the 1980’s, most notably Standards Vol. 1. But as happens with many extremely talented musicians, the record company executives didn’t really know what to do with Jordan. Some critics say that his output since the late 1980s and early 1990s has been uneven in part because he either meandered between pursuing mass appeal by going the contemporary jazz route and playing standards or focused too much displaying his admittedly amazing technique.
Jordan returns to the public eye with the release of his latest CD, Friends. The record is aptly titled because Jordan recruits premier players such as violinist Regina Carter, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and Trumpeter Nicholas Payton, to name a few. So the CD is blessed with good talent, and Jordan is blessed to release Friends on a label, Mack Avenue Records, that knows how to make good use of his talents. Not all of the efforts work: The eight-minute classical piece “Romantic Intermezzo From Bartock’s Concerto for Orchestra” is misplaced here among Jordan’s originals and the covers of jazz and pop tunes. Jordan plays piano on that piece, and maybe he included it to remind listeners that he is a classically trained pianist. The cuts on Friends that really soar are Jordan’s originals such as the be-bop orientated “Capital J” and the jazz/soul cut “Walking the Dog.” Jordan knows when to use his signature technique and when to lay back and play with the other talented guitarists recruited for this project. The arrangements used on the covers turn out to be pretty inspired. The group transforms the Katy Perry pop tune “Kissed a Girl” into a blues/rock cut that features Jordan playing the piano and guitar at the same time with no overdubs.
Perhaps the most notable thing that listeners will sense is that Friends has a relaxed feel. Jordan appears to be an artist who has hit his stride as a jazz man who can also live quite comfortably in the pop world. And his maturation combined with his great natural talents result in an album that is...something magical. Recommended