Robert Conti’s Guitar Wizardy Has To Be Heard To Be Believed

By Dan MacDonald

Superman may be faster than jazz guitarist Robert Conti, but he sure doesn’t sound as good.

Conti and his band entertained a gathering of less than 100 people Friday evening at All That Jazz.  The Ponte Vedra guitarist chose the local night spot to debut his new band of young men, all in their late 20s, before taking them on tour this fall.

Conti’s guitar technique is something that has to be heard.  To describe it would leave people thinking, “No one is that good.”

He is.

Rock guitarists are noted for the wicked speed at which they scream out solos.  For the most part, those guys crook their hand deep into the bottom of the guitar neck and do variations of a few basic patterns.  Conti is all over the instrument.  This provides new and different music with each stroke.

He could finish a beautiful portion of music, going from the top to the bottom of the guitar neck, before you could fill a shot glass with water.

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 with a new sound.  Shadow Of Your Smile, which he performed twice during the evening, was especially effective.

When you’re fast, the upbeat quick paced songs are a natural.  It is when that style is coupled with a contrasting tempo that the true artistry is revealed.  While the ballad had a soft touch, this was not simply a chance for Conti to catch his breath.  Each guitar interlude was a full portion of music.

The two hour long sets on Friday (he performed Saturday as well) combined Conti’s love for the old jazz standards with his band’s enthusiasm for the jazz sound of today.

It’s an interesting concept, one that might work but that needs developing.

Conti’s band, which includes  drummer Jeff Tippins, Steve Saracson on keyboards and bass player Troy Millard, is a tight group that stayed with Conti at every rapid turn.  But the solos at times left something to be desired.

The synthesized keyboards were too loud and the sounds too hi tech.  Synthesized horns meant to be in the background, forced their way to the forefront.  Had they been any more bullish, they may have overturned some tables in the front row.

While the band didn’t get much of a chance to stretch during the first set, Conti gave them plenty of room during the second portion of the show.

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.

Jacksonville is a rock ‘n’ roll town.  Those who would like to see jazz get a stronger foothold should have taken a rocker to see Conti last weekend.  The sight of a guitar would have put the uninitiated person at ease and Conti’s ability would have made a jazz fan out of him after the first song.

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