by Ian Mann
March 21, 2022
This triple album is an impressive piece of work that showcases the diverse aspects of Meier’s talent – virtuoso guitarist, skilled bandleader, gifted composer and astute song interpreter.
Nicolas Meier World Group
(MGP Records MGPCD25)
Nicolas Meier – nylon fretted & fretless six string guitars, acoustic twelve string guitar, glissentar
Kevin Glasgow – electric bass, Richard Jones – violin, Demi Garcia Sabat – percussion
“Magnificent” is the impressively packaged triple CD recently released by the guitarist and composer Nicolas Meier.
It features a new studio album, “Magnificent” by his World Group, recorded between December 2020 and June 2021 and a concert recording featuring the same line up recorded in February 2020 at Colchester Arts Centre and previously issued as the digital only release “Live”. The third disc , “Stories”, consists of solo guitar performances recorded at Meier’s home studio in October and November 2020 during the second Covid lockdown.
I’ve been long term admirer of the work of the Swiss born, London based Meier. Initially influenced by Pat Metheny he is a skilled and intelligent composer who has diverged from this initial inspiration to absorb a broad variety of musical influences, often sourced from the Middle East, North Africa, Iberia and other areas around the Mediterranean.
Meier’s fascination with the music of the Middle East is inspired by his Turkish wife, Songul, who acts as his muse and who also provides the distinctive artwork that has graced the covers of many his recordings, including this one.
His musical journey has been documented on such excellent albums as “Orient” (2006), “Journey” and “Breeze” (both 2010), “From Istanbul to Cueta with a Smile” (2013) and “Peaceful” (2019) all of which have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.
He is also half of an acclaimed guitar duo with fellow fretboard wizard Pete Oxley, a partnership that is also well documented on disc. Meier has also worked with cellist Shirley Smart, bassist Nick Kacal’s Guerilla Sound group, drummer Robert Castelli’s Boom Quartet and the genre hopping quartet Eclectica! He also played on, and produced, the 2018 release “Across The Bridge” by the Belgian born vocalist and songwriter Gabrielle Ducomble. Currently he is working with jazz / soul vocalist Ola Onabule.
The majority of the pieces on the “Live” recording are sourced from the “Peaceful” album and it’s fair to say that the tunes have grown in stature in the live environment. The compositions, already strong in terms of melody and sophistication, have taken on an added dynamism to produce music that is both technically dazzling and genuinely exciting. It’s good to see this excellent live recording being made available on CD for the first time.
I covered the live disc at the time of its digital release and this review, which also references a previous live performance at the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, forms the basis for the paragraphs above. The full review of the Colchester “Live” recording can be found here;
Seeing this music being played in the flesh heightens one’s appreciation of the skills of the musicians, four genuine virtuosos, led by Meier on a dizzying array of guitars, as listed above.
The track listing for the “Live” album is shown below. the individual pieces originally appearing on “Peaceful” unless otherwise stated;
1. Manzanita Samba
2. Besiktas Café
3. Caravan of Anatolia
4. City of The 3 Rivers
5. Riversides (from “Infinity” 2016)
6. Princes’ Islands
7. Water Lilies
8. Tales (from “Infinity”)
9. Adiguzel (from “Orient”, 2006)
My review of the original “Peaceful” recording can be viewed here;
Turning now to the “Magnificent” studio album which builds upon the success of “Peaceful” and the World Group’s subsequent live work. Lively opener “Mesudiye” features the usual beguiling blend of jazz and Middle Eastern exotica, with Jones’ violin prominent in the arrangement alongside the leader’s guitar. Both deliver fluent solos while Glasgow and Sabat provide the colourful rhythms. The Barcelona born Sabat has been resident in the UK since 1999 and although he also plays kit drums he is fully worthy of the title of ‘percussionist’.
“Semur’s Bridge” slows things down a little, a seductive, folk tinged ballad featuring the controlled passion of Jones’ violin and Meier’s guitar. Glasgow and Sabat are less flamboyant here, but still offer characteristically sympathetic support. Meier and Jones again feature as soloists on a piece that combines exoticism with Meier’s innate melodic sense as a composer.
“Hip” wanders through a range of tempos and dynamics, speeding up and slowing down on a Mediterranean odyssey that combines darting melodies with complex rhythms and cogent solos from Jones and Meier. This piece features the use of effects pedals within the context of this otherwise largely acoustic quartet as the World Group continue to expand their already distinctive sound.
“Stories From The Garden”, a title possibly informed by lockdown, slows things down once more, a slow burner of a piece that shimmers on the horizon like a mirage as it smoulders gently. The combination of lyrically soaring violin and oud like guitar, supported by economical bass and percussion is as seductive and beguiling as ever.
“Sous Le Ciel De Fribourg” continues the lyrical mood and adds a subtle flamenco flavouring with Sabat featuring on the cajon as Jones and Meier deliver achingly beautiful solos.
Sabat introduces the vibrant “Villa Olivio”, one of the album’s most uplifting pieces, with Jones and Meier surfing the rhythmic wave. There’s a quieter interlude part way through featuring shimmering guitar and violin cadences, but this proves to be short lived as Jones and Meier take flight again, propelled by Glasgow and Sabat, with the guitarist delivering a particularly virtuosic solo.
“The Pond” is appropriately reflective and features pizzicato violin approximating the sound of dripping water. Predominately lyrical in tone the piece features sumptuously melodic playing with gorgeous solos from both Jones and Meier.
The “Magnificent” disc concludes with the breezy “Under An Olive Tree”, with airy violin and nimbly picked guitar propelled by an infectious bass and percussion groove with Sabat again featuring on cajon. It’s a winning blend of gypsy jazz and flamenco influences and rounds this particular disc off in an uplifting manner.
There’s no duplication of material on the “Magnificent” and “Live” discs, ensuring that this is a real ‘value for money’ package, which comes with the welcome bonus of “Stories”, the disc of Meier’s solo guitar performances.
The guitarist was particularly active during lockdown, hosting weekly ‘jazz club’ livestream sessions from the home studio in his garden. Initially these were solo performances, although following the easing of restrictions these were later able to feature other musicians – albeit suitably socially distanced.
The idea for “Stories” emerged from this period and this disc is the only one not to focus entirely on original material. Nine of the fourteen pieces are arrangements of jazz standards, film scores and pop and rock tunes while the other five are solo versions of Meier group compositions, including two pieces from the “Magnificent” World Group recording. This represents the only element of ‘duplication’ across the whole three disc thirty one track set and in any event the versions are substantially different, the solo guitar performances sounding utterly distinct from the whole band recordings.
For the solo guitar disc the album packaging actually details the type of guitar Meier uses on each track. First up is a version of “La Vie En Rose”, a song famously associated with, and indeed co-written by, Edith Piaf which features Meier on fretted nylon strung guitar. It’s a quietly elegant performance that expresses something of the sadness of the original.
Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice” finds Meier moving to a solid bodied ‘jazz guitar’ and embracing a more obvious bebop style.
Nino Rota’s theme tune from “The Godfather” movie sees Meier returning to the fretted nylon acoustic for another understated performance that brings out the haunting qualities of Rota’s melody, while adding a subtle flamenco flavouring.
Meier’s own “Kismet” features the exotic, oud like sounds of the glissentar, an eleven stringed fretless instrument manufactured for him by the Canadian guitar makers Godin, a company with whom Meier has enjoyed a long and fruitful association.
A stately version of “Mona Lisa”, written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, features the fretted nylon acoustic, by Godin, naturally.
The same instrument features on a fascinating segue of Charles Mingus’ elegy to Lester Young “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and “Brush With The Blues”,co- written by Meier’s one time employer Jeff Beck and keyboard player Tony Hymas. The Beck/Hymas half of the sequence sees Meier judiciously treating his sound via a range of FX pedals.
The ‘jazz guitar’ returns for Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart”, but in a less overtly bebop way than before as Meier gives a sensitive ballad performance, embellished with stylish bop informed flourishes.
Meier’s own “October In Ankara” features the favourite fretted nylon acoustic, but this time played in a more obviously oud like, ‘Middle Eastern’ way.
Meier is a versatile musician who has performed across a variety of musical genres. He enjoyed a lengthy stint as a member of rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s band, as alluded to previously, and has also fronted his own Meier’s Seven7 and My Dark Side heavy metal projects. Meier’s love of metal explains the inclusion here of a surprisingly beautiful acoustic version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, played on the fretted nylon acoustic.
“C’est Si Bon”, by Henri Betti and Andre Hornez is played in breezy gypsy jazz fashion on the same instrument with Meier giving a truly virtuoso performance.
The first of two solo guitar versions of tunes from the “Magnificent” disc is “Sous Le Ciel De Fribourg”, which continues the French theme. Elegant, and at times almost courtly, it’s appreciably different to the group recording, but no less lovely. It’s the last of the eight pieces to be played on the fretted nylon acoustic.
The ‘jazz guitar’ returns for Cole Porter’s “Night & Day”, which is played in a more obvious jazz style.
From the accompanying “Magnificent” disc the solo version of Meier’s own “Stories From The Garden” features the haunting sounds of a fretless nylon strung acoustic, here sounding distinctly oud like.
The solo disc concludes with Meier’s own “Esmeralda”, a lovely piece performed on a combination of fretted and fretless acoustic guitars.
The “Magnificent” triple album is an impressive piece of work that showcases the diverse aspects of Meier’s talent – virtuoso guitarist, skilled bandleader, gifted composer and astute interpreter. With no really obvious examples of duplication it represents a value for money package that no admirer of his work would wish to be without.blog comments powered by Disqus