Randy Napoleon may represent the new school of Detroit guitar players emerging from the lineage of Kenny Burrell and (Motown) Funk Brothers Dennis Coffey and Joe Messina, but his approach and sound on Common Tones are old school for sure. His fifth set as a leader (on the Detroit Music Factory label) collaborates across four generations of Michigan jazz musicians and sounds and feels like an old-school jazz conversation, as if Napoleon and friends are playing directly to each other, and to you.
This meets the standard of Napoleon's description of jazz: "When you are playing jazz, it is a conversation that moves at lightning speed. There is no time to think. It has to be reflexive, an ingrained response."
Common Tones extends beyond the traditional jazz repertoire but remains a jazz purist's dream. "Common Tones" and "Where It Ends," two Napoleon originals, fully channel the strong and soulful sound of Detroit's favorite guitar son Burrell, and its cheerful glide through "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which mines from The Beach Boys' vocal classic a vein of deep, shining and rock-solid jazz, opens this set like a sunny smile.
Trombone player Drew Kilpela finds it first, and then drummer Nicholas Bracewell kicks up the spicy-hot New Orleans jazz funk in Napoleon's original "You've Got To Hang On," a great title because his guitar leads the ensemble through its long melodic lines.
The leader's tight and accurate attack in "I Married An Angel" (from the Rogers and Hart songbook) sounds like he's threading guitar notes through the eye of a needle, yet leaves plenty of space for drummer Nick Bracewell and bassist Louie Leager to dish out their groove stew, too and his duet with guitarist Jocelyn Gould on "The Song is You" (Hammerstein/Kern) soars from its very start in a solid but supple sound suggesting overdubbed Joe Pass playing both parts at once.
Many of the musicians Napoleon features on Common Tones are former students. "This record is dedicated to my teachers, and to my students," his notes explain. "We are connected through the music."