JAZZ REVIEW : Guitar Group’s Roxy Program Proves to Be a Case Study in Too-Easy-Listening Music

Say this for Acoustic Alchemy: They will never jangle your nerves. The six-piece English band--led by guitarists Nick Webb and Gregg Carmichael--played a one-night program at the Roxy on Tuesday that was a case study in easy-listening contemporary instrumental music.

In fact, maybe too easy. Webb and Carmichael’s dexterous mastery of their acoustic instruments was obvious. But they were so focused on tuneful melodic exposition and carefully structured ensemble work that they rarely did more than skim the surface of the music.

Much of the set--which was drawn primarily from their current MCA album, “Natural Elements"--sounded like a continuing medley of attractive, but not particularly arresting, instrumental pop-jazz. Pieces like “Ricochet,” “The Stone Circle,” “Natural Elements” and “Girl With the Red Carnation” blended one into the other--pleasant, amiable collages of sound that too often threatened to blend into background music.

“Drake’s Drum,” with its odd blend of Elizabethan and contemporary elements, provided a welcome break in the pattern, as did Carmichael’s Spanish-styled playing on “Casino” and “Red Dust and Spanish Lace.”


The two guitarists also worked well together in the atmospheric lyricism of “The Colonel and the Ashes” and “Ballad for Kay.” A light-hearted guitar rag titled “Buzby Special” allowed them to indulge in a few welcome moments of musical levity.

More often, however, Webb and Carmichael kept the proceedings in the kind of tight control that allowed for few creative flights of fancy. The net result was that the accompanying ensemble of Terry Disley on keyboards, Klaus Sperber on bass, Bert Smaak on drums and Bosco De Oliveira on percussion had few opportunities to display their wares. And that was doubly unfortunate because the ensemble’s nationalities (respectively, English, German, Dutch and Brazilian) offered the possibility of a colorful seasoning of creative influences--one that might have brought some much-needed spice to a bland musical evening.