- Sun & Waterfalls
- Across the Hot Sand
- Ska Blues
- Family Time
- 3 vs. 2
- Tahitian Block Party
- Three-Card Shuffle
- Loop 26
- Dusty Ol' Village
- One Small Stop
- Super Slow Blues
- Song for Max
- Puravi Sketch
- Morning Mist
by Jules Brown
One Small Step is a new body of work by the Dennis Winge Trio. The name comes from the 14th track - but this is a little ironic as stylistically, this album is extremely varied. There's a nod to a lifetime of influences, not just in terms of jazz guitar, but also in composition and overall mood. With such a varied, genre-spanning selection of music, it is hard to pin any all-encompassing labels onto the work. The common thread is perhaps Winge's ability to paint a picture; to send the listener to a time and place beyond the here and now. All 19 tracks were composed by guitarist Dennis Winge, who is joined by Tom Wescott on bass, Joel Carberry on drums and Greg Ezra on percussion. The entire work is in fact a live studio recording, deliberately eschewing any overdubbing, as Winge states "to deliver fresh, creative music without pretense".
The overall impression is great. A tight trio playing very well indeed. When they are in the zone, they are magnificent.
There is a distinct change in mood as each track passes, but also often within tracks. Candy sweet melodies give way to melancholic blue notes (Dusty Ol' Village), whilst clean guitars gradually crescendo into overdrive, entirely changing atmospheres in the space of a few bars (Green). With such a wide variety of music it's not surprising some things appeal more than others, but for me the band are at their absolute best when they are able to let rip, such as in Across the Hot Sand.
The album starts with the gently breezy Sun & Waterfalls, featuring some greatly melodic playing over a walking acoustic bass, very much in the feel of the 1950s and early 60s tracks popularised by the likes of Tal Farlow and Les Paul. But this jumps immediately on track two to the laid back bluesy fusion funk of Swampness. Electric bass replaces the upright, and harmonic and melodic considerations are overshadowed by rhythmic ones. There are several fusion tracks like this. 'Three Card Shuffle' opens side two - a fast paced bluesy rocker that would have been a perfect starting point for one of Miles Davis' rock explorations of the early seventies. John McLaughlin is clearly an influence. And there are plenty of stripped down Mahavishnu Orchestra moments, the wonderful other-worldly Puravi Sketch being a great example, with outstanding performances from all involved); the music has a spiritual, meditative feel - underlined by the Mandala of the album's front cover. But this is no surprise, Winge also performs under the spiritual name Damodar Das. As Dennis explains, "Puravi is an Indian 'thaat' (like a scale or mode) which has no Western equivalent. It goes C D♭ E F♯ G A♭ B C. I am into Indian style sacred chanting called 'kirtan' so that's where I came across it."
Despite the spiritual elements to One Small Step, there is plenty that is down to earth. Chicken Pickin' country gets a rockabilly shuffling snare on Tahitian Block Party, whilst the deliberate dischordance of 'Super Slow Blues' puts a little classic rock grit into the mix, the result reminiscent to mid seventies Jeff Beck. Dusty Ol' Village is totally traditional and places us firmly in mid 20th Century small-town America, though this track contains some of Winge's most appealing soloing.
For the jazz guitar purists, the title track, One Small Step delivers. It's a lightning fast slab of bebop, well performed and wearing a bow tie. This is not, though, for me at least, the stand-out track of the album. Loop 26, on the other hand, is slower, yet equally sophisticated. Shades of Les Paul with a very interesting 9/8 time signature - though with no emphasis in threes.
The majority of One Small Step is uptempo, but there are ballads to. Plumage is slow and lush : brushes on the drums, upright bass, and a heavily chorused guitar. Music doesn't get much more laid back than this. Morning Mist is perfectly titled, a soundscape evoking sun burning away the the first dampness of the day. Something about it (a combination of the Hendrixy rotovibe guitar, the 'purple hazey' octaves on the bass, and splashing cymbals) give it a somewhat slightly psychedelic feel; if we are seeing morning mist it is definitely after having been up all night!
Winge dips into Caribbean and Latin American musical styles: the beautiful, but slightly melancholic Bossa, the Calypso of Song For Max, and the upbeat Ska Blues. This owes more to Two Tone than the earlier ska jazz of the Skatalites or Ernest Ranglin; definitely more modernistic in feel, but with some great performances from all three musicians. Then there is Timbafunk, an Afro-Cuban fusion track with a strong dose of Latin rock.
But World influences don't stop in the Americas. Across the Hot Sand is an urgent fiery D harmonic minor vamp, with a strong Middle Eastern or North African feel enhanced by some great percussion work by guest Greg Ezra, who along with Carberry lead the music up and down. There is a great bass solo by Wescott, who in my opinion is at his best when playing electric bass on tracks like this. The guitar work is inspired, slightly overdriven and played with passion. This is a great example of the band being in the zone, and, for me, one of the best tracks on the album.
Classical influences are also in evidence: notably the Bach-inspired 3 vs. 2, with its unimposing drums and percussion, and steady walking acoustic bass. Green also has some of this Baroque feel, but fuses this with cool jazz, no doubt with guitar inspired by the title's namesake. But, as is often the case with this album, we don't stay anywhere too long, and cool jazz builds and builds, briefly edging into soaring rock a la Carlos Santana. And it works really well.
Although most of the guitar work was performed with electric instruments, there is some wonderful folky acoustic playing on Family Time. I wonder whether this is a nod to the British folk rock band Family? It is perhaps the least jazz track on the album, with a gorgeous acoustic guitar kicking the song off, before laying down some equally tasteful solo phrases. Another great fretless bass solo, too. A very joyful piece of music!
This is a hugely enjoyable album, with enormous variety in style. Winge demonstrates his wide appreciation of all genres of guitar playing and music in general. He seems deliberately unconstrained by 'jazz', 'rock', or the other 'boxes' we put ourselves in, and the result is some really special music. It is intelligently conceived and passionately delivered. Stand out tracks are: Green, Across the Hot Sand, Puravi Sketch and Loop 26. But this ultimately speaks more of me than the trio. One Small Step will be available in February 2019 and is very much worth checking out! Have a listen and see what tracks stand out to you.