JAZZ REVIEW : A Virtuosic Tour de Force by Guitarist Stanley Jordan


There’s no one quite like Stanley Jordan. He plays the guitar with the multiple moves of a two-handed pianist, in a style that essentially transforms it into a new instrument. Yet, for all his ingenuity and innovation, the 45-year-old artist, with his one-man performance and his shy, almost introverted manner, doesn’t seem a likely candidate for the colorfully outgoing stage of the House of Blues.

But think again.

Jordan’s Wednesday night program was a stunner--greeted by a house full of avid listeners stuffed into cabaret seating, who responded with rousing cheers to the many twists and turns in his unusual playing technique.

And with good cause. The hour-and-a-half set was a virtuosic tour de force, as Jordan’s sets so often are. But it also was a musically exploratory, emotionally dense and rhythmically energizing roller-coaster ride through a group of tunes ranging from Ravel’s “Bolero” to Lennon & McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby.”

Jordan’s approach to the guitar involves “tapping” individual strings (which are positioned very close to the instrument’s frets) with all 10 fingers, rather than the more traditional method of using the left hand to stop the strings and the right hand to strum or pluck. The result is the opening up of a quasi-orchestral range of sounds. On some numbers, Jordan simultaneously used one or two fingers to play a bass line, three or four others to play chords and the remaining fingers to produce melodies. At other times, he played two guitars at the same time (with one on a stand), contrasting their unique timbral qualities.

But Jordan’s techniques are only tools to get the job done. “Bolero,” for example, was given a dramatically propulsive reading, tinged with improvisational byplay, which built toward a climactic impact rivaling that of the orchestral version. On an appropriate salute to the blues, he touched upon roots blues, jazz blues and rock blues, remarkably triggering the essence, the spirit and the sound of each.


It was a fascinating evening by a truly original talent. Initially a kind of one-man-band musical oddity, Jordan now has matured into an important improvisational innovator.