Mark Whitfield is a throwback. In an era when most jazz guitarists favor a brash, metallic tone, Whitfield is the soul of mellowness. Playing a hollow-body Gibson, the 26-year-old gets a soothing, almost acoustic tone from his electric instrument. His new album, "True Blue," is devoted to "a true mix of jazz and blues," as the liner notes put it, but even in the earthy genre of the blues, Whitfield sounds tastefully laid-back.
Joining Whitfield on his first recording for Verve are three members of the Branford Marsalis Quartet (and the Tonight Show Band)--pianist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and saxophonist Marsalis--as well as bassist Rodney Whitaker and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. In terms of technique, Whitfield has no problem holding his own in this company, for his timing is impeccable and his solos are inventive and well shaped. In terms of projecting his own personality, however, this self-effacing bandleader is all too easily overshadowed by his guests.
For example, on "Immanuel the Redeemer," one of three Whitfield compositions inspired by his religious beliefs, Whitfield's opening solo is skillful but it has none of the swagger and passion of the Marsalis and Kirkland solos which follow. Randy Weston's "Berkshire Blues" is a very romantic approach to the blues, but Whitfield's dazzling 16th-note runs have none of the sensuality of Kirkland's piano solo nor even the dramatic tension of Watts's drum fills. The seven Whitfield originals are supplemented by blues written by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker. --Geoffrey Himes
BUT,,,it is not only because of Whitfield that this is a masterpiece the sidemen on this recording are far from "second raters" My favourite are the late Kenny kirkland on piano..he sounds like early Hancock but slightly more technical and he swings, his solo on "Blues for Alice" is almost unbearable.
Nic Payton on the trumpet was already here a guy with "monster chops"
If you like jazz with a heavy blues flavour and groove in one package you can hardly find a better album.