Jazz Improv Magazine Volume 8, Number 2 (Autumn 2008)
Peter Sprague Plays Solo — SBE Records
Secret Code, It’s You Or No One, Luiza, With a Little Help From My Friends, Letter From Home, Satellite, Nocturn Opus 9, Number 2, Passarim, In Her Family, A Foggy Day, She’s Leaving Home, Papaya Samba
PERSONNEL: Peter Sprague (Guitars)
By Dan Adler
Peter Sprague has been delighting jazz guitar fans with his albums for over 30 years. He has played on close to 70 albums as a sideman, and has recorded numerous albums as a leader starting in the early 80’s, including “The Message Sent on the Wind” with Kenny Barron, “Dance of the Universe”, “Bird Raga”, “The Path”, “Musica Del Mar” and several others that have elevated him to legendary status both as a player and as a composer. His most recent group recording “Taking It All In” was reviewed in “Jazz Improv” magazine last year accompanied by a solo transcription by Wolf Marshall.
Solo Guitar has always been one of Sprague’s passions. He has played countless extended solo guitar gigs at restaurants in the San Diego area for many years and had recorded a solo track called “The Corean Suite” on one of his early albums: “Bird Raga” from 1980. This 15 minute track was a medley of Chick Corea tunes which Sprague played off the top of his head in one take, and has left many of his fans hoping for a more extended set of solo selection. The promise of “The Corean Suite” is finally fulfilled in this solo album.
The album opens with “Secret Code” – an original composed by Sprague in collaboration with vocalist Kevyn Lettau (who does not appear on the album). This beautiful Bossa-Nova quickly establishes the joyous mood which is maintained throughout the album.
The timeless standard “It’s You Or No One” follows with some great counterpoint, pedal points, walking bass lines that intermix with the chords and, of course, a great solo in the swinging style of Joe Pass, whom Sprague has always held in the highest regard. It might be worth paying attention to Sprague’s reharmonization of the form in the solo: rather than modulating up a minor third abruptly in the first section, he leads into it in a way that is more symmetrical with the second part. The other “swinger” in this selection is Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” which affords Sprague an opportunity to showcase his formidable chord solo chops as well as single lines with self-accompaniment in the style of Lenny Breau, whom he cites as another early hero.
The two classic Jobim songs “Luiza” and “Passarim” find Sprague in a more pensive and reflective mood. The former remains out of tempo, concentrating on the beauty of the melody and the arrangement; while the latter develops more as a musical story, told through Sprague’s expressive and orchestral playing.
On his previous album “Taking It All In”, Sprague included Pat Metheny’s beautiful composition “Travels”, and on this album he pays homage to the master by playing two more of his memorable songs: “Letter From Home” and “In Her Family”. Both are played on Sprague’s Taylor steel string guitar, and both evoke the mood of Metheny’s “One Quiet Night” album, although there is never any question that you are listening to Sprague, as he injects his own lyrical spirit into the music.
Chopin’s piano Nocturne is probably the most surprising selection in the collection. It’s one of the most recognizable themes in the classical repertoire, yet rarely heard on guitar. Sprague takes some liberties with the theme and interjects many fills and logical extensions that are reminiscent of Chick Corea’s solo piano recordings. The classical guitar tone is full and satisfying, reflecting a new level of maturity in Sprague’s artistry.
Sprague’s rendition of “She’s Leaving Home” is full of orchestral highlights. Using dynamics, reharmonization, counter melodies and a variety of other musical tools, he melds it all together into a coherent and enjoyable listening experience. The other Beatles song: “With A Little Help From My Friends” starts off with a little “Don’t Worry – Be Happy” romp and stays in that happy-go-lucky vein, as Sprague explores variations on the theme and the harmony.
John Coltrane’s “Satellite” is not exactly standard material for solo guitar – being one of Coltrane’s more challenging tunes, and having been originally played on the “Coltrane’s Sound” album backed by just bass and drums. Sprague chooses to explore the tune’s harmony more directly by stating the chords clearly throughout, as he effortlessly provides his own bass notes as needed, and his steady foot tapping the beat to keep the tempo and excitement level high.
Closing the album is another Sprague original “Papaya Samba” which starts out-of-tempo, remarkably similar to the first tune on the album, but then takes off with a Samba beat and the same joyous feeling we have come to expect from so many of Sprague’s songs. The lead sheet is available for purchase at Sprague’s website.
Peter Sprague’s long overdue solo album delivers a satisfying musical blend of styles, moods, virtuosity and a deep maturity that are sure to delight both the casual listener as well as the most discerning musician. In keeping with the times, Sprague is providing the option to buy individual mp3 tracks from his website, as well as the entire album from CDBaby.com. Go for the whole thing – it’s a fun journey.