The prodigal son returns! Having spent the last several years plying his trade in the jazz-friendlier environs of New York City, native jazz guitar prodigy Nick Cassarino is coming home — at least for a night or two — with an intriguing new record in hand, We Got Fire to Bring.
Fans expecting a clinic on jazz guitar will likely be surprised by the disc’s opening cut, “I’ll Push On.” The tune’s driving country shuffle lays waste to any notions of heady, free-form exploration. Cassarino helms the tune with a rich, expressive vocal delivery that personifies the group’s self-described “power soul” vibe. The ace axe man is indeed both a powerful and soulful front man, unfurling love-struck lyrics with a style that complements his superior guitar chops
The title track follows and leans more heavily on Cassarino’s jazz background. But the effect is less satisfying than the preceding cut. The trio seems to lose focus amid navel-gazing noodling that is technically impressive but overshadows the song and, more importantly, Cassarino himself.
The band returns to form on “Joy,” which centers on a gorgeous little guitar theme. Drummer Conor Elmes and bassist Calvin Crosby frame Cassarino’s deft, arcing lines with artful subtlety. The song builds into a tense, sizzling groove before Cassarino opens up with a brilliant exhalation of vocal bombast.
“Holding On” is a meandering tour de force that switches gears seemingly at every verse, vacillating between frantic funk and drawn-out, sinewy grooves. Here Cassarino indulges a harder edge, tearing through a meaty, metal-inspired solo that would shame the average hard-rock lead player. Dude is a monster.
“Walk on Water” provides respite from the head-spinning intensity of the previous cut. Cassarino ruminates on an internal struggle between personal angels and demons over a freely flowing wash of bright guitar tones. Elmes and Crosby once again highlight Cassarino’s shimmering work with expert care.
“Emiline” is a driving, gospel-tinged soul ballad and easily the album’s most accessible cut. Cassarino puts his otherworldly chops and jazz sensibilities aside in favor of a relatively straightforward arrangement. As such, the focus rests solely on Cassarino as a vocalist, which is a very good thing — as is the transcendent guitar solo midway through.
We Got Fire to Bring closes with a live cut, “Only Love.” Cassarino preaches his gospel with a slow-burning blues number that simmers over the din of clinking glasses and bar chatter. As Cassarino funks it up, you can feel an atmospheric change in the room, punctuated by rapturous hoots and howls from the crowd, which becomes as vital to the cut as Cassarino himself.
The Nick Cassarino Trio releases We Got Fire to Bring this Friday, November 19, at the Marriott Harbor Lounge in Burlington.