Guitar wizard and jazz star Stanley Jordan is a rare breed. Not just a fancy two-handed finger-tapping fretboard shredder, he’s an incredibly versatile musician and arranger with a degree in music theory and composition from Princeton University. To call him a virtuoso of the guitar is one thing, but Jordan takes the art of performing to a level that one hardly ever sees, particularly on his latest DVD Stanley Jordan Trio – New Morning: The Paris Concert (Inakustik).
Jordan, with longtime stand-up bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer David Haynes delivered a 105-minute show in an intimate setting at the New Morning Jazz Club in Paris, France in July of 2007. It was a 12-song setlist that featured many long compositions, some of which he authored but most of which were covers of iconic artists you’ve probably heard at some point in your life, including The Beatles, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Mozart. And the main guitar Jordan used, the Vigier Arpege, was coincidentally, made by the French company Vigier Guitars.
At various points during the show, you see Jordan do something very challenging and sophisticated — from a musician’s point-of-view — that will blow your mind: using the left hand, he will play various rhythmic, jazzy chords on guitar, while simultaneously putting his right hand to work on a piano to play constantly evolving chords and soloing sections. Making impressive records in this fashion is one thing — which he did in the much of the 1980s and occasionally in the ‘90s — but seeing how a man like Stanley Jordan pulls this off live is truly the best way to enjoy his music. And for the most part, this reviewer did enjoy the Stanley Jordan Trio’s show, via the DVD.
The concert began with Jordan performing a majestic and elegant solo cover of the Paul McCartney-penned classic “Yesterday.” This veteran of the jazz circuit is known, of course, for his highly praised reworking of classic rock staples, such as The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” on his breakthrough Blue Note album, 1985’s Magic Touch, a release that earned Jordan a Best New Artist nomination at the Grammys.
“A Place In Space,” from Stanley J’s latest studio output State of Nature followed, and though the French audience dug parts of this upbeat, be-bopping number that included all three musicians, it seemed directionless toward the middle of the song. Not his strongest composition.
Perhaps the most impressive and mind-boggling performance of the Paris show came next, with the trio’s cover of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father.” Jordan, sitting in front of his piano, played an icy, scary-sounding intro, followed by beautiful melodic runs. When the rhythm section came into full swing, Jordan showed off his incredible gift of playing two instruments at once, but with a twist this time. As he arpeggiated the song’s melodies with his left hand on piano, Jordan simultaneously soloed on guitar with his right hand, then in mid-song switched his left hand to guitar and right hand to piano! Jordan wasn’t just showing off here, as his right-handed piano work handled the brighter melodies on the right side of the piano while his left-handed piano parts created darker-sounding flavors to compliment his bright and busy right-handed guitar runs. It was truly amazing to watch, obviously.
Elsewhere, Jordan showed his musical range as he put his stamp on Mozart’s “Piano Concerto #21: 2nd Movement,” another Beatles tune “Because,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and the light and lovely Miles Davis bluesy jazz classic “All Blues.” A song written on the spot by Jordan that July night, “New Morning Improv” was another standout, with his guitar and amp emitting spacious reverb as he engaged in more two-handed finger-tapping madness.
There weren’t many lowlights in this performance, but the radically reworked version of “Amazing Grace” stood out the most. It was mainly an experimental free-form piece by Moffett, who alternated between frantic, speedy riffs, bass-slapping and light harmonic touches, occasionally using a wah-wah pedal and violin bow to create new sounds. Only towards the waning moments of the tune — when Stanley Jordan joined in with some light, clean guitar strums — did he play the recognizable “Amazing Grace” intro. And then the song ended.
Other notable features of the DVD include a twelve-minute interview where the one-man musical machine discusses his unique playing style, warm-up exercises, and informs viewers that as a youngster, he actually studied piano before the guitar. [This may very well explain his brilliant piano-playing at the Paris show]
Stanley Jordan and company saved the most impassioned performance for last, with an epic version of Magic Touch standout track “Return Expedition.” This slow-to-fast-paced jazz tune, while slightly exotic, was also at times rockin’, and therefore a true fusion power jam that saw Jordan playing guitar and piano simultaneously one more time. Jordan, hardly out of energy by this point, gyrated his arms and guitar upwards every time he bent up a guitar string, then proceeded to move around the stage to perform with various effects—a fuzzy distortion effect and synthesizer designed for guitar. And while the combo of Moffett and Jordan constantly played off each other here, Haynes controlled the show closer’s direction the whole way with his ornate, dynamic drumming.
What Jordan seeked to accomplish here musically was to document where he was at a moment in time. No longer branching out into funk or soul territory, Jordan embraced jazz, pop, classical, and a little blues into his Paris show, mixing some of the old in with a lot of the new stuff, including new covers (like “Yesterday”), which as usual, he made his own.
In closing, there are a couple ways one can approach this DVD. Compared with Stanley Jordan’s 2003 Live In Montreal: International Jazz Festival DVD, which was an hour long with 11 tracks, The Paris Concert, at 127 minutes long in total (including the interview), is a highly entertaining release but may be somewhat less enjoyable than the former disc because it’s a little too lengthy, especially the one or two songs that seem directionless at times. And with 4 tracks from Jordan’s 2008 CD State of Nature included in the 12-song set versus only a few from his peak years in the mid-1980s-to-early ‘90s, some fans may wish he played more older tracks. On the other hand, the 2003 live DVD had comparatively more familiar cuts but was only an hour in length.
The bottom line: With The Paris Concert, the quality of the show is so captivating and awe-inspiring that Jordan’s fans will likely disregard its length, won’t be picky about song selections, and enjoy it for what it is. I’m no jazz freak, but this was one of those performances that had you constantly in awe of what Jordan was doing in front of your very eyes and wondering, “How does he do that?” It wasn’t my favorite setlist but was a strong performance nonetheless and therefore do no hesitate in recommending this DVD to Stanley Jordan’s fans and anyone else who appreciates elite musicianship.