Some guitarists make beautiful music. Others are great technicians. But combining dexterity with a feel for jazz makes Robert Conti a rare player. Conti and his new band performed at All That Jazz Friday and Saturday nights. The Friday evening performance, consisting of two hour-long sets, was a display of guitar playing at its best. How fast is Conti?
If he was a typist, he’d be reaching the 250-300 words a minute mark. If he could move knitting needles that fast, he’d be able to make a giraffe a turtle neck sweater in less than a couple of hours. If he were to play any faster, they’d have to invent a new musical notation to describe the sound. The fluidity of his technique is what is so amazing. Just as you think he couldn’t possibly make a more intricate run, his left hand dazzles the strings and caresses the ear.
From the first ripping run at the start of the show opener, Lover Man, until he bid his guests goodnight, Conti served a tasty brand of standards mixed with a new sound. Shadow Of Your Smile, which he performed twice during the evening, was especially effective. For fast players, the upbeat, quick-paced songs are a natural. It’s when that style is coupled with a contrasting tempo that the true artistry is revealed.
While the ballads received a softer touch, they were not simply a chance for Conti to catch his breath. Each guitar interlude contained a full portion of music. Conti’s band, which includes drummer, Jeff Tippins, Steve Saracson on keyboards, and bass player Troy Millard, is a group of young men ready to blend their ideas of jazz with those of Conti. They had to master all the youthful zeal they could to keep up with this master guitarist on some numbers. The experimentation in sound at times felt out of place. The keyboards occasionally tended to blast through the guitar parts. During the Conti composition, Latin Love Affair, the exotic synthesizer was almost overbearing. It sounded as though someone was in the back of the room playing a video game. The band closed the first set with Rotation. Conti opened the stage a bit to allow his group to stretch. It hinted of what was to come.
After a lengthy, hour-long break, Conti returned with a bouncy and light version of Mr. Wonderful. All the players got a chance to show their stuff during Green Dolphin Street and Millard was featured in the medley of Four Brothers and Donna Lee. Millard, who studied under Conti at one time, played a rather melodic bass during the medley. His solos were interesting in that he’d make a pass, stop, make another run, stop again and go for the finale. Each solo segment built up on the one that preceded it.
The familiar melody of Flying Home was put into high gear. Conti picked up the tempo without rushing the performance. The same was true for the encore number, Secret Love. Players of Conti’s caliber are too precious a commodity to ignore. The small gathering of less than 100 people over the course of Friday evening saw a giant of a performer in a small venue. The chance to see such talent in an intimate setting in Jacksonville is almost as rare as the number of people who possess that kind of talent in the first place.
By Dan MacDonald, Music Writer
The Florida Times Union