Recently found Stanley Jordan’s Bolero in the clearance bin at a Half Price bookstore. It does make me a little sad to see work by such a talent in the sit- on-the-floor-and-sift section of a store, but I suppose that is all to my gain. Well, mostly.
Jordan’s take on the classic R&B song “Always and Forever” doesn’t work for me. The vocal chorus makes the tune sound too much like smooth jazz despite some tasty licks. I much prefer the solo reprise version that closes the disc. There Jordan makes the most of the melody, making it his own.
The Herbie Hancock gem “Chameleon” comes off better, despite the programmed drums and synths. (I know such was all the rage when this was made, but jazz artists who used them well didn’t always have songs that sounded programmed.) Here Jordan takes the tune into his own atmosphere, especially on the solos.
Next, Mr. Jordan takes on another R&B hit, “Betcha By Golly Wow.” This sounds more like a Stanley Jordan song than the treatment of “Always and Forever,” but it is a little lush for my taste in places. Again, the vocals don’t improve or add anything to the song, but are distracting.
I enjoyed “Drifting” quite a bit though it also feels a bit lush with the supporting keyboards. Here Jordan almost rises above the programming with some delicious solos.
In “Plato’s Blues” Jordan takes his layered approach to solo guitar on the low end of the sonic spectrum and comes up with a nice tromp through a genre he doesn’t get into often enough. It begins slow and builds to a rocking crescendo which should please any lover of the guitar.
Of course the centerpiece of the project is the title song, a 22 1/2 minute rendition of Ravel’s masterpiece. There are some moments where the piece suffers from the same flaws noted above (especially from about the 11 minute mark to 15 minutes in), but overall, Jordan’s version is beautifully crafted, and never dull. Jordan solos in all the right spots, returns to the main melody with flair, and brings joyous life to what easily could become boring after three minutes or a vehicle for pretension.
Bolero is not Stanley Jordan’s best album. It sounds too dated in places and does not make the most of his skills as an improviser. However, it hardly deserves relegation to the bargain bin.