by Ian Mann
November 06, 2019
An engaging musical voyage around the Mediterranean and beyond. Meier performs with his usual skill and flair and everybody in the band plays well, with each musician a distinctive presence.
Nicolas Meier World Group
(MGP Records MGPCD022)
Nicolas Meier – nylon fretted & fretless six string guitars, acoustic twelve string guitar, glissentar
Kevin Glasgow – six string electric bass
Richard Jones – violin
Demi Garcia - percussion
“Peaceful” is the latest album from the Swiss born, London based guitarist Nicolas Meier. It continues Meier’s exploration of the fusion of jazz and Middle Eastern music that has previously been documented on such excellent albums as “Orient” (2006), “Journey” and “Breeze” ( both 2010) and “From Istanbul to Cueta with a Smile” (2013), all reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.
Meier is a prolific composer and has released a total of twelve albums as a solo artist. 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’s skill and versatility earned a lengthy stint as a member the great rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s band, while his 2017 trio album “Infinity” was made in the company of US jazz heavyweights Jimmy Haslip (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums).
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”, the latest album by the Belgian born vocalist and songwriter Gabrielle Ducomble. Review here;
The guitarist’s fascination with the music of the Middle East is inspired by his Turkish wife, Songul, who acts as his muse and also provides the distinctive artwork that has graced the covers of many of Meier’s recordings.
More than two dozen musicians have passed through the ranks of various Meier groups but “Peaceful” features his current working quartet, or World Group, featuring violinist Richard Jones, six string electric bass specialist Kevin Glasgow and the Spanish percussionist Demi Garcia. Glasgow and Garcia were part of an edition of the Meier group that I saw at the now defunct Forge venue in Camden as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The band that night also included violinist and vocalist Lizzie Ball and kit drummer Laurie Lowe. A review of that event is included as part of my Festival coverage here;
As its title suggests the new recording is a largely acoustic affair, a long way removed from the versatile Meier’s Seven7 and My Dark Side heavy metal projects! Indeed Meier describes this quartet as “an acoustic world jazz group”.
Opener “Besiktas Café”, sets the scene, a beguiling blend of Turkish and gypsy jazz influences that variously transports the listener between Paris and Istanbul. The interplay between Meier’s guitars and Jones’ violin is particularly striking, while Garcia’s percussion provides a subtle rhythmic impetus.
Initially influenced by Pat Metheny, Meier’s writing also exhibits something of the American’s gift for melody. The largely breezy “Manzanita Samba” puts his distinctive world jazz slant on an episodic, seven minute composition that incorporates impressive solos from Jones, Glasgow and Meier, and even features Garcia, presumably, blowing a whistle, as if to emphasise the authenticity of the tune’s samba credentials.
The languid title track features more exquisite interplay between guitar and violin while Garcia adds delightful percussive details. At seven and a half minutes plus it’s another episodic piece, and as befits the name of the quartet the sound again hints at the music of several cultures, Meier’s playing again evokes the flavours of the Middle East while Garcia’s percussion introduces a subtle Indian element.
If anything the atmospheric “Caravan of Anatolia” is even more evocative with Meier effecting an oud like sound. This is presumably achieved on his Godin manufactured glissentar, an eleven string fretless guitar designed to sound similar to the oud, the lute like instrument common throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Garcia’s percussion introduces “Water Lilies”, a flamenco flavoured piece that intersperses vibrant, highly rhythmic passages with gentler, more reflective episodes. Typically the piece features some dazzling soloing from the leader and Garcia continues to feature strongly, his rapid fire percussion imparting the music with a considerable rhythmic drive.
The title of “Princes’ Islands” references the cluster of small islands in the Sea of Marmara, just south east of Istanbul. They are famed for their beauty and Meier and his colleagues bring an authentically Turkish feel to the music in a richly atmospheric performance, with both Meier and Jones impressing as soloists.
“City of the 3 Rivers” offers another example of Meier’s episodic and highly evocative writing as it develops out of rippling guitar arpeggios to embrace a typically broad range of influences, including a return of those earlier flamenco flavourings. The playing is typically excellent and includes extended solos from Meier and Jones.
“The Island” re-introduces a more overt Middle Eastern sound with Meier again deploying an oud like sound as he dovetails effectively with Jones’ violin.
The album concludes with “Soho Square”, the title acknowledging Meier’s current status as a London resident. It’s the most conventionally ‘jazz’ sounding piece on the album, with a theme that threatens to allude to standards such as “Georgia” and “Sunny Side of the Street”. There are subtle blues inflections, but the patter of Garcia’s percussion helps to imbue the music with an exotic sheen that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of 21st century London.
“Peaceful” represents an engaging musical voyage around the Mediterranean, with excursions to Brazil, and maybe even India, before finally ending up in London. The broad range of influences certainly justifies the quartet’s ‘World Group’ moniker.
Meier performs with his usual skill and flair and everybody in the band plays well, with each musician representing a distinctive instrumental presence. “Peaceful” builds on the success of Meier’s earlier solo work and it’s probably fair to say that he’s created an entire ‘world jazz’ sub genre of his own by now.
If anything “Peaceful” is almost a little too tasteful, and despite the universally high standard of musicianship on display it’s possible that some listeners may find these elegant musical travelogues a trifle bloodless.
Having witnessed Meier in live performance on several occasions, both as a band leader and as a sideman, it’s probably fair to say that he’s one of those musicians who has to be seen in the flesh for one to appreciate just how talented a player he really is. Meier is a stunning technician on a wide range of guitars and related instruments, fretted and fretless, acoustic and electric, and with any number of strings.
I’m currently looking forward to seeing Meier and the World Group performing this music live at midday on Friday 22nd November at the Culford Room, Cadogan Hall as part of the 2019 EFG Jazz Festival. The event forms part of Cadogan Hall’s ‘Out to Lunch’ programme and admission is free.