Truth be told, nothing thrills this writer than receiving albums by artists whose music i have never heard and being very impressed by their efforts. Guitarist and composer Phil Schurger, a native of Indiana (now living in Fort Wayne), has just issued “The Waters Above“, his second album in 12 months for the Chicago-based Ears & Eyes label. The recording features his regular band including alto saxophonist Greg Ward (vying for the 2018 Most Valuable Player as he had appeared on a series of albums this year), bassist Jeff Greene, and drummer Clif Wallace. The group has been together since 2012, working on a collection of Schurger originals he composed from 2006-2011.
Upon initial listens, I heard shades of John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny in the leader’s guitar tone as well as his long-form compositions (two of the six track are under 10 minutes). There is an airiness to the group’s sound and an intensity to the performances. The warmth of Ward’s alto is a fine complement to the clear electric guitar tones. Greene and Wallace provide splendid support with both pushing the rhythms forward (listen to the bassist’s melodic lines beneath the solos and how the cymbals splash all around). Schurger’s favorite guitarist is the late Jerry Garcia and, if you listen closely on pieces such as “Motion” and “Scorpio“, you might hear that influence on some of his phrases. Do pay attention to how Ward plays with such intensity yet never goes “out” or plays long stretches in the alto’s higher ranges.
Several of the songs have a meditative quality (the guitarist has written about how certain forms of meditation aid in his compositional process – read here) and rest easily in the ears and mind. “Anikulapo” moves forward on the rolling rhythms from the bass and drums, the melody lines expanding as the song goes from section to section. I could listen to “Inclusion“, with its melody of longer notes over gentle rhythms, guitar chords, and thick bass tones, on an endless loop and hear something new each time. Ward’s elegant sounds wrap one in a protective blanket and keeps your mind safe from daily distractions.
There is so much to enjoy on “The Waters Above”, just don’t expect an elongated “blowing” session. The music, the quartet, the composer want you to enter a different soundscape if you are willing to explore. If you are, Phil Schurger and his music will reward you generously.
For more information, go to www.philschurger.com.
Here’s a track to whet your appetite: