Jazz guitarists, there are many, but they are usually divided between the completely mundane (if not embarrassing) and very-close-to-brilliant. I’d like to think Dean Magraw is on that upper level of musicians who understands his talent, pushes himself, and is willing to flirt with the kind of music he wants to present. He does so with a bit of distortion not common in jazz, but one that certainly fits (Gone Jazz), one that has Magraw playing with a group he calls Red Planet, which features Chris Bates (bass) and Jay Epstein (drums).
I’m a huge fan of jazz trios, and upon looking at the track listing, with such songs as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s “Little Wing”, and two John Coltrane pieces (“Saturn” and “Africa”), I thought cool, this will definitely be some nice and hopefully-respectable playing. But then to hear these familiar songs sound unfamiliar, as if all of them went to Saturn looking for Sun Ra while Magraw dipped his amps in fuzz and sweat… this is jazz? Very much so, or at least Magraw has an appreciation for harder, more abrasive styles of guitar work and playing. The original material here (six tracks total) definitely stand up on their own and I can easily see other trios and groups taking and expanding on them too. To sum it up in a simple way, these guys sound like they know and respect each other, play with each other as if it’s some game of basketball with the same kind of passion they may have had when they were in the 3rd grade. In this case they’re a jazz band, and it’s the kind of playground time any musicians would love to be a part of, it not witness.