Guitarist Zach Larmer has a feel for the unexpected that is grounded in the tradition of his music, on his debut recording, Inner Circle, features a talented large ensemble consisting of: keyboardist Tal Cohen, bassists Juan Pablo Diaz and Jermaine Walden, and drummers Rodolfo Zuniga and David Chiverton as the core units, with guest appearances by Brian Lynch on trumpet, Aldo Salvent on saxophone, and John Daversa on EVI and trumpet. Six of the seven tunes are penned by Larmer with the addition of s standard, “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” rounding out the set. The recording was done live in the studio, with an audience present and no editing, which gives a perceivable energy to the project and focus on projecting a cohesive group sound.
The music throughout the recording is measured, often virtuosic and frequently grounded in its jazz references. It is deeply musical and heartfelt, interspersed with segments of excellent written material by Larmer that achieves what every bandleader aspires to, but rarely achieves, a cohesive group sound with plenty of room for each player to shine in their own unique way while still contributing to the whole.
The opener, “On the Dock,” finds Walden’s bass line working out to a catchy bass riff that is supported by Chiverton’s drum kit. The ensemble sound paints a picture of rolling melodies with Larmer and Daversa providing the main theme. The music is celebratory, Daversa’s EVI solo has lines drifting up and down and uses staccato rhythms that build to a crescendo climax. Larmer’s solo is starkly beautiful with his warm tone and patient melodic sensibilities that sounds decades beyond his actual age.
The other highlight of the album is the creative treatment of the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise.” Starting with Larmer’s chordal stabs which leads into a funky groove by the group with Larmer unwinding a relaxed rendition of the melody with a hip ensemble passage at the end of the form. You can certainly hear the jazz tradition in Larmer’s phrasing, rhythm and melodic colors. However, he also has a fresh approach that incorporates the rich guitar lineage of fusion, funk and rock, all to good effect and musical satisfaction. Cohen’s contribution to this track is brilliant, his support of Larmer’s solo displays his intense listening skills and his solo work is energetic and builds. Running slightly over thirteen minutes, this track is a musical journey that foreshadows the many more musical delights we can expect from Larmer in the future.