Vic Juris has probably had a slightly raw deal, reputation wise, as the notes to this CD say. The probable cause is his sheer versatility. The man who can do almost anything does work in danger of being taken for the one who can almost do anything -- almost but not quite any one thing. Is he a chameleon and therefore without any hue of his own?
Hearing Vic Juris with lots of people, from the late Benny Waters to his regular (so to speak) boss Dave Liebman, hasn't got me thinking him anonymous, but I'm not sure this CD would easily deliver his colour to a listener without benefit of the same happy experience. Bill Milkowski in a note says that "Vic Juris ranks right up there alongside the Pat Methenys, John Scofields, and Bill Frizells of the jazz guitar world . . .", but there's only one of any of them. The real point would be to announce only one Vic Juris, not several.
The story is that Jay Anderson, very decent bassist, began recording this present set in a new studio he acquired, and having jammed in duo with the guitarist on a couple of numbers brought in Joe Locke on vibes and Adam Nussbaum on drums for some more. Then there was some overdubbing, "layering tracks" and so forth. a process not so dreadfully obvious really on anything here. Nothing sounds smothered, even inconspicuously, but I don't think it was quite the way to register Vic Juris as an individual unmistakable voice. "The Spanish Horse" seems to have a little too much going on, some distracting rather than enhancing chording. I don't know quite what to listen to in it. It's been somewhat backgrounded.
What makes this just a nice, rather than a properly fascinating, recording is the fact that somebody decided to make it some kind of showroom of Vic Juris when it ought rather to have been a musical performance, on the lines of communicating rather than of producing effects to impress. At times a distracting superfluity of effects.
In his memoir of the sessions which came to comprise this CD, Juris refers to his admiration for the Larry Coryell/Gary Burton combination of days gone by. This was a nice reference for his decently individual performances here in tow with Joe Locke. The dreamy, somewhat hippy-flavoured music of the former pair was one product of the interaction of two distinct stylists, and Locke and Juris are also considerable stylists, as I can hear very certainly.
That happy fact's not so plainly there to be listened to at leisure, though. I'm sure I could pick Juris out among a number of similarly able guitarists -- playing it safe, since there aren't so many of those. Still, I shouldn't have to pick out what he's doing from such a proportion of the titles here as I have to. There is a point at which a potentially very good jazz recording becomes a superlatively accomplished example of happy background to the clinking of ice in glasses, accompanying relaxed conversation. This set hovers there, with survivals of something better where the guitarist's lead voice comes out clear, or where he and Joe Locke make pretty. An audition of "Uphill" could sell this to a number of people, and besides the guitarist and the vibist Jay Anderson -- a pretty good bassist -- has a nice gently blustering solo.
How often has fear of monotony resulted in the making of a jazz recording of diminished interest? This isn't as awful as what Creed Taylor did once with Roland Hanna, no expense spared, players paid, time wasted. This Vic Juris CD isn't bad at all, actually. Juris is a decent composer, too. Some of the material could also have been handled better, and beyond the multi-tracked guitar(s) "Kling On" is saved by melodic strength. "889" is also very decent. Oh for a live concert of Juris, Locke, Anderson, and Nussbaum. Now that ought not to be missed.