Monday, August 1, 2016

The Michael Blum Quartet: Chasin' Oscar

By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Chasin' Oscar

I’m overwhelmed by this young artist and his quartet. 

Guitarist Michael Blum, at just 21 years of age, already has three albums to his credit, along with rave reviews from Down Beat magazine and All About Jazz, and kudos from  other guitar icons and jazz reviewers. As the son of a classical guitarist, Blum began his musical education on the piano, then switched to saxophone and finally, at age 9, settled on the guitar.

He graduated with a double degree — music and cognitive science — from Dartmouth College, then entered world-famous Berklee College of Music. His professor was Jim Stinnett, with whom his father had studied. Within a year, Stinnett suggested that he and Michael Blum should make an album together; that debut recording for Blum, Initiation, was followed by Commitment. 

Chasin’ Oscar resulted from a passing comment that Blum once made to Stinnett, expressing a desire to “learn to play guitar as well as Oscar Peterson played piano.” Stinnett took Blum at his word, and suggested that he listen to — and learn — Peterson’s recording of “Tristeza.” The process took uncountable hours, and it’s one of the tracks featured on this new album.

Blum’s quartet also is superb, which isn’t surprising after learning that all the sidemen are music college graduates and teachers. Blum, bassist Stinnett and pianist Brad Smith all are from Berklee, while drummer Dom Moio teaches at Arizona State University. Believe me: They’re all swingers!

Most of the tunes were staples in Peterson’s performances and recordings. One of them, “Nightingale,” was a Peterson original. Stinnett contributes “Whisper” and “Pine.” Oh, and Blum also sings; he delivers smooth vocals on two tracks. 

The tour de force performance of “Tristeza” is worth more than a listen; to see why I used the adjective “overwhelmed,” check out the tune’s YouTube video. The skill and technique are unbelievable!

Blum didn’t merely chase Oscar; he caught him!

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