Mike Bono – Familiar Places
(La Reserve – digital only. CD Review by Adam Sieff)
Mike Bono’s name may be unfamiliar, but now I realise that, unknowingly, I’ve already heard his guitar playing on recordings by Erykah Badu, Julian Lage and Michael Blume. His 2019 album Visitors with pianist Christian Li was well received (LINK HERE), but there’s so much new music you just can’t hear everything!
A digital only release (for the time being at least), this is a well performed set of classic songbook repertoire. Bono may be young but he’s already a mature and entertaining guitar player, and his long relationship with the rhythm section of fellow Berklee alumni, double bassist Jared Henderson and drummer Lee Fish, make for an extremely tight and complementary trio. As Bono says, ‘the songs that I chose, by no coincidence, are ones that have played a huge role in developing my voice and tunes that we’ve been playing together as a trio for ten years’.
On this album Bono plays a Gretsch Tennessee Rose guitar through a 1971 Fender Silverface Princeton amp, a great sounding setup that’s warm and clear. The tracks were recorded and mixed by Ari Raskin at Premier Studios in Manhattan, mastered by ace veteran Kevin Reeves at Universal Mastering. And they sound wonderful.
The ‘Familiar Places’ referred to are ‘Stella By Starlight’, ‘I Hear A Rhapsody’, ‘I Remember You’, ‘All The Things You Are’, ‘All My Tomorrows’ and ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’. The trio play them with respect for the original arrangement but sounding fresh and contemporary.
Bono’s guitar solos dazzle as they build, he plays for the song but when he lets rip with some high speed runs such as on ‘I Hear A Rhapsody’ they’re well executed and exciting. His chord work is rich and warm, as on the tender readings of ‘All My Tomorrows’ and ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’. But it’s his use of melody throughout the album that gives him an edge, his playing on ‘Stella by Starlight’ using the original chord changes of the song from the film ‘The Uninvited’, really is stellar.
Two of the songs are not from the traditional songbook, there’s a sharp version of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Turn Around’ which gives bassist Henderson and drummer Fish time to shine. A song I didn’t know was Henry Mancini’s ‘Lujon’, from the TV series ‘Mr Lucky Goes Latin’, which Bono performs on a warm sounding Kremona nylon string guitar. The song was only chosen a few days before the recording session after Bono heard it at a friend’s house for the first time. It benefits from its freshness and the acoustic instrument offers another texture of his playing.
‘Familiar Places’ is a lovely album to warm up a grey Winter’s day. For guitar fans it is recommended listening. For guitar players, it’s inspiring.