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Jazz Media Review Print

Scott Sawyer's Dreamers Recording a Sublime Introspection for Jazz Listeners

September 5, 2015 - Asheville, NC:

Scott Sawyer: Dreamers. Scott Sawyer:"Booski," "Dreamer," "Gotta Lotta, " "Joe Dunn," "Tony Speaks," "Copperhead Stew," and "No Goodbyes." Nick Drake: "River Man." Bruce Piephoff: "Dakota." Irving Berlin: "How Deep is the Ocean." Bob Dylan: "Not Dark Yet." Personnel: Scott Sawyer, guitars; Ron Brendle, acoustic bass; Brian Sullivan, drums; Dave Finucane, tenor sax; Kate McGarry, vocals; Bruce Piephoff, spoken word; Tony Williamson, mandolin;  Bobby Cohen, drums. Produced by Jason Richmond. Associate Producers: Jon Sawyer, Mark Masercola, Steve Bocckino. © 2013 Doll Records (884501950367). Re-released for distribution through Abstract Logix in April 2015. CD - $13.99, Download - $11.99. Available at cdbaby.com.

Scott Sawyer has clearly done his homework on Dreamers. The North Carolina based jazz guitarist captures the sound of such giants as Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel with crystalline precision. Perhaps most notable is that Sawyer emulates the more understated qualities of these prominent figures (especially Frisell, whose instantly recognizable sound seems to have especially influenced Sawyer).

Whether he is blazing through an up-tempo number or a ballad, there is a very cool, refined quality to Sawyer's playing. Like a praying mantis, Sawyer waits patiently in his corner of the bandstand, elaborating on his often tranquil compositions with cool, refined solos. There is a relaxed confidence and delicate mastery of technique in Sawyer's playing, which permeates the entire album. Even on the jaunty "Jazz meets Newgrass" composition, "Tony Speaks," Sawyer's cool guitar provides a nice contrast to the mandolinist Tony Williamson's punchy melodies. Almost all of the tracks possess the same introspective character, floating gently by with a relentlessly methodical pace that often never builds to a climax (two exceptions are "Tony Speaks" and a gritty recording of the Bob Dylan composition "Not Dark Yet," which both feel out of place with the rest of the album, and would be better suited to separate recording projects). 

For the most part, these minimalist tendencies work in Sawyer's favor. An exceptionally tasty guitarist, he provides the listener with several sublime solos, but the monotony of character does little to demonstrate the musician's versatility. Perhaps this is the intent of the album, which (as the title implies), should be a surreal excursion into an ethereal soundscape. Only a fiery rendition of "How Deep is the Ocean" and the funky "Copperhead Stew" (channeling guitarist John Scofield) provide some greatly lacking musical propulsion. From the standpoint of continuity, this repetition of affect makes for a wonderful listen on a rainy afternoon. Dreamers is a lush tapestry of strong compositions and heartfelt improvisation, providing a strikingly intimately quality that provides a little over an hour's worth of beautiful escapism for the listener.

The first half of the album is very much an impressionistic journey, with the first seven tracks seamlessly flowing into a larger multi-movement work. "Booshki" gently pushes forward like an ocean wave, with Dave Finucane's exploratory saxophone gliding over a beautiful canvas of sound created by Sawyer, bassist Ron Brendle and drummer Brian Sullivan. On "Dreamer," Kate McGarry's voice blends perfectly with Sawyer's atmospheric guitar, creating a subtly shimmering timbre that melts in the listener's ears. A cover of Nick Drake's "River Man," offers a similarly understated vibe. On "Joe Dunn," Sawyer connects with his blues roots, forging one of the most dynamic solos on the album. Sawyer echoes Frisell's understated serenity while establishing an intensely personal and powerful voice on the guitar. The immensely talented and expressive Brendle takes a soulful excursion in one of the most lyrical and direct solos on the album before Sawyer closes out the song with a heartfelt interpretation of the melody. Sawyer accompanies Bruce Piephoff's spoken word poem "Dakota" with a strong sense of narrative direction. The final track, "No Goodbyes" features a fine acoustic duo for both Sawyer and Brendle. As a whole, the record makes a nice addition to a long history of jazz recordings, providing an exquisitely introspective to the jazz listener's collection.