Guest Contributor: Robert Ham
It’s hard to know what side of the musical fence Mike Pardew wants to reside. Throughout his latest release, the talented jazz guitarist finds him hopping across the divide between pop-styled accessibility and highly technical showmanship. Azul begins with three tracks (including the album’s finest moment, the gentle ballad “Welcome Home”) featuring a restrained, glassy tone that rests nicely in the laid-back melodies he spins off with apparent ease. Then, he leaps headlong into the world of muscular jazz, flexing some vicious sounding lines that are beefed up with a light touch of distortion and some aggressive turns by his rhythm section.
And so the album goes, with Pardew, bassist Damian Erskine, and drummer Micah Kassal refusing to rest on one particular sound or mood. It’s hard to begrudge Pardew for wanting to show off his obvious abilities on the six-string. Moreover, it’s a laudable move for a jazz player to throw short tracks (“Hwy 93” and “Flathead Lake”) on his album that are discordant, challenging, and, dare I say, rocking. Yet, as much as it is a surprise for a first-time listener to wait and see where he’s going next, Azul feels too schizophrenic for its own good. Pardew’s talent would be better served taking it one specific direction, allowing his light touch to shine or letting the distortion and meaty riffs blaze.