The Neil Kelly Quartet, lead of course by guitarist Neil Kelly, has put together some very pleasant easy-on-the-ears instrumental jazz on Rivers Converge. Kelly has written and arranged music that falls stylistically somewhere between current smooth jazz and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. In spite of the use of some rather 'high jazz' techniques, such as asymmetric time on “Trinity” or the through composed melodies of the title track “Rivers Converge”, these tunes always maintain a nice mellow mood.
Bassist Lukas Vesely and drummer Jemal Ramirez do a fine job providing the back bone of the music. Actually, there's more than that to their playing. Ramirez's splashy style adds a unique texture to the overall sound of the album, and Vesely's infrequent solos always please. It is saxophonist Jonathon Bautista and Kelly himself, however, who really shine here. Bautista's playing is energetic but tasteful. He's not afraid to shred a little, like he does on “Trinity”, but he never goes so far as to overly challenge the listener. This is intentionally not 'sheets of sound' playing. The melody assumes a commanding tone when Kelly and Bautista play together on the same line. It's a great example of how the total can be greater than the sum of the parts. This is especially true on “Rivers Converge”, where the two musicians unify and then diverge and re-converge just like a couple of rivers running through the mountains. The highlight moment of the album, though, comes at the end rather than at the beginning. Though it is all good, nowhere else on this CD does Kelly play like he does at the top of “Itsu Mo Nando Demo”. He presents the theme with graceful ease, dripping with musicality. He owns it completely as if he had written it (the rest of the music on the album he did write, by the way).
For the newcomer to jazz music, Rivers Converge would be perfect for a mellow evening of easy listening by the fireside. There are no 'red' notes here. Yet, this music is also high quality and interesting enough to entertain long time jazzers. It's pleasant from the first note to the last, and will surely take it's place in the current repertoire as a good contribution.
Key Tracks – Rivers Converge, Trinity, Itsu Mo Nando Demo
Donny Harvey – MuzikReviews.com Staff
November 29, 2010