Esmond Selwyn – Renegade
(SLAMCD 291. CD Review by Chris Parker)
A recent review of this double live CD from one of the UK’s most respected guitarists praises Esmond Selwyn’s ‘clean picking, abundance of ideas, and a tone to die for from his ES 175 with Charlie Christian pickup’, and his websitecontains fulsome tributes from (among many others) George Coleman (‘you sound great, boy!’) and Frank Sinatra’s guitarist Tony Mottola (‘these days my pleasure is listening to great players like yourself’), yet Renegade’s sleeve-note writer, Digby Fairweather, is somewhat rueful about Selwyn’s undersung status in the jazz pantheon, quoting the late alto player Bruce Turner to illustrate his point: ‘There is no route to greatness in British jazz’.
There is, however, a simple explanation for this apparent neglect: he plays an instrument that – arguably more than any other in jazz – has undergone a sea-change in the technology that produces the sounds available to it, and as a consequence, the technique of its practitioners, since the rise of rock music in the late 1960s. Selwyn’s models (listed by Fairweather as Tal Farlow, George Van Eps and Joe Pass) are simply not those commonly cited by most contemporary guitarists, raised on the music of Carlos Santana, Lowell George, Jimi Hendrix and post-rock-era jazz guitarists such as Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Mike Stern et al.
Nevertheless, listening to Selwyn barrelling his way through seven exhilarating choruses of this album’s opening track, ‘Fine and Dandy’ does induce a kind of nostalgia for the days of clean, fleet solo runs, especially when, as here, the guitarist in question is as well versed in what Fairweather calls ‘the sunny major-key vocabulary of swing and its predecessors’ as in ‘the advanced harmonic lines and devices that distinguished bebop’.
Throughout a nicely balanced set that includes accommodating standards (‘All the Things You Are’, ‘Just One of Those Things’ etc.) as well as jazz classics and bop staples (‘Blue Monk’, ‘All Blues’, ‘Yardbird Suite’), Selwyn breezes confidently through a series of joyous, exuberant but consistently musicianly solos, competently shadowed by pianist Paul Sawtell, bassist Bill Coleman and drummer Tony Richards, to the audible satisfaction of an enthusiastic audience.
Those wishing to hear Selwyn in an organ-trio setting, moreover, might like to investigate another Slam CD, The Middle Half, on which Selwyn plays alongside organist John-Paul Gard and drummer Robin Jones. Great playing like this should never really go out of fashion.