Considering the dynamic sweep of styles on Thom Rotella’s wildy mood-swinging new album, it’s clear that he made the right choice to set aside his initial instinct to name it after his atmospheric soul-jazz cover of Monk’s “’Round Midnight” and call it Storyline instead.
For the versatile guitarist, It’s a way to express the reality that even without words, instrumental artists use melodies, harmonies, grooves and ensemble interaction to weave narratives that tap into what’s in their hearts at any given moment. Easing effortlessly from contemporary pop instrumental/smooth jazz to more traditional vibes, Rotella’s been weaving those stories for over 30 years. Although the bluesly, lightly funk opening track “Odd Ball” (featuring the shimmering vibe harmonies and solo by Nick Mancini) has been promoted to smooth jazz radio, the eclectic collection hits the sweet spot between strict pop ventures and heavier jazz.
Thom’s inimitable way with re-imagining classics allows us thoughtful peeks at his multitude of influences. These range from deeply soulful, vibes-enhanced stroll through Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six” and a brooding, bluesy twist on The Beatles’ “Come Together” (featuring bassist Trey Henry) to the balmy Latin jazz (“Besame Mucho”) and an ambient, crystalline prism through which we can re-experience the Great American Songbook standard “When I Fall In Love.”
Keen on weaving his personal tales between those transcendent interpretations, Rotella showcases his chops as a composer on some of the album’s most engaging tunes, including the aforementioned “Odd Ball,” the coolly fluid and easy swinging “Storyline” (powerfully punctuated by drummer Jimmy Branly), the stark, moody “Monkey Bisness” (featuring a dazzling clarinet solo by Bob Sheppard) and the ambient psychedelic jazz exercise “Nuze Bluze.”
Also of note is the subtle way Rotella uses the vocal brilliance of Tierney Sutton, as a dreamy, sensual texture behind his soulful lead lines on “Cristo Rendentor.” Rotella’s always been an emotionally impactful artist, but true to his title, it’s wonderful to see him continue developing as an insightful musical storyteller.