Sporting a lean, lanky frame with hair straightened and pulled back, Stanley Jordan could have passed for a more casual version of Prince when he strolled onstage before a sold out crowd last night at the Weisiger Theatre at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.
To be sure, there is something of the rock star in the guitarist, from the vogue poses he would strike during solos to the general eccentricities of his pioneering “touch style” instrumentation. But at heart, there were all kinds of inspirations and performance personas at work in this often dazzling outing.
Though designed as a jazz concert, the repertoire seldom devoted itself to a single stylistic agenda. Jordan’s material, as well as his playing, revealed shades of R&B, pop, Afro-Cuban music, bop, swing and more. So what did he start with, following a brief solo segment that introduced the harmonic range of his touch style soloing? How about Debussy? He launched into a very playful arrangement of Reverie that swapped the composition’s impressionistic foundation for pop-flamenco grooves.
When it came time to incorporate the more flamboyant extremes of his technique, which had him playing guitar and piano simultaneously, Jordan opted for a version of the Horace Silver classic Song for My Father that played nicely off the rubbery acoustic bass of Paul Keller and the lighter Latin flourishes of drummer Kenwood Dennard. As for Jordan, the left hand handled piano while the right maintained guitar, allowing the tune’s robust melodic color to bloom.
But when Jordan applied his technique solely to guitar, where he tapped out multiple melodic lines and even a few bass phrases on the instrument’s neck, the stylistic range widened. Late into the performance, an unaccompanied reading of Eleanor Rigby bled into, following a few classical permutations, Stairway to Heaven. Jordan has employed both rock staples for decades as showpieces for his technique. While a bit flashy and busy in places, the tunes still proved arresting last night.
The Cannonball Adderly/Joe Zawinul gem Mercy, Mercy, Mercy was served up at encore time not as a jazz relic, but as a vibrant serving of instrumental soul music. Sure, the technique grabbed the spotlight. But Jordan’s unwavering sense of soul made the technical trickery seem like child’s play.