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Release Date:
March 30, 2010

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

Chris Standring recorded five excellent smooth jazz CD's over the last 10 years or so. He went into the studio and played with an appropriate level of restraint, compressing his chops into tasty four minute radio chart confections. The he decided he didn't want to do that anymore and made the album he calls "the most honest CD I've ever recorded." He didn't jump ship and go into the "out there" zone. He built a new ship using the framework he already had and allowing himself to forget expectations based on predictability. He started composing and Blue Bolero came into fruition. He has been foreshadowing it on the deeper tracks on his CD's since the beginning. A little classical influence here, some orchestration there, a little Latin vibe, some jazzy soloing in between the smooth grooves. This time he has taken all those elements and expanded them to create a set of music that is original and important. Blue Bolero is a Statement Album, and one that will be on a lot of "best of the year" lists when December comes around.

Standring has always been interested in orchestration and film scores. Cinematic is  the word that best describes this album. It tells a story, his story about growing up and the places and people he encountered on the way to becoming the person he is now. He created orchestral arrangements that add new dimensions to contemporary jazz compositions that range from meditative solo guitar to trendy chill/acid jazz. Don't cherry pick songs from this CD. It is full of strong songs that all work as stand-alones but when you listen to them all together a story unfolds and you become immersed in the mood of the music. Their scope is impressive and it is impossible to even start to describe all that is fascinating about this album in a semi-short review.

The eight minute "Overture" introduces the themes of the album with layers of strings building behind a simple guitar melody. After it breaks out into some jazzy guitar improvisation, it moves back to the main theme, then Rodney Lee delivers a funky keyboard solo and the strings come back to play a hauntingly repetitive line before Standring returns with another slammin' solo. From there the songs journey from a stark "Blue Bolero" with its' military sounding drums to "Please Mind The Gap's" groove chill vibe. "Contemplation," "Sensual Overload" and "Regarding Tetchwick" are beautifully moody, the first one jazzy, the second one sensual with an almost Sade-ish groove, and the latter an acoustic interlude. "Fast Train To Everywhere" starts with a sound clip from an old time radio show and some drum driven locomotion that gives you the feeling of a mid 20th century train trip. On Second Thought" is a brief classical sounding guitar melody that leads into "Sunrise," which reminds me of some of the songs on Pat Metheny's "Secret Story," Then Standring plays an unexpectedly spiky riff over a bossa nova beat in "Bossa Blue" and goes fashionably electronica-eclectic on "March of the Bowler Hats" with a very cool Mitchell Foreman keyboard solo thrown in for good measure.

Standrings guitar and orchestral arrangements provide a consistent thread through all these different types of music and the twists and turns that each song takes. His imaginative use of sound clips and voices whispering in the background or singing wordless lines in the foreground makes the music even more interesting. You'll find sonic surprises every time you listen and you will find yourself listening often. Blue Bolero isn't a type of music, it's a piece of music that is composed of a lot of types of music. That's the kind of music that holds your attention over time because instead of outgrowing it you find yourself getting deeper into it. The "growing edge" is the place where personal and artistic growth require pushing beyond the tried and true. That's where stagnation stops and possibility begins. Blue Bolero is a beautiful example of what those possibilities can be.