Things I Like
Best known for his nearly three decades with Astral Project, guitarist Steve Masakowski has also forged a significant solo career. The title of Things I Like is a very big hint: this is Masakowski’s show, with more of his own tunes and a bit more straight-ahead jazz swing than NOLA funk. The new album includes covers of jazz composers and New Orleans’s own James Black (“Lil’ Boy Man”), along with some impressive originals in a mix of quartet, trio, and solo-guitar numbers.
You can tell that Masakowski is NOLA born-and-bred by the relaxed time feel that permeates this album—check the funky groove the band provides for Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.” That groove owes a lot to the relationship between bassist Peter Harris (an alumnus of UNO, where Masakowski chairs the jazz program) and veteran drummer Julian Garcia. Alto saxophonist Rex Gregory (another UNO alum) has a light, floating tone that’s especially effective in the Masakowski title tune or whenever alto and guitar take off on overlapping counter lines. As a guitarist, Masakowski’s attack is clear and rounded at any speed, but listen to his composer’s ear when he provides subtle, unstable chords behind Harris’s solo on Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.” Masakowski doesn’t just hear how the song was built, he also hears what it’s about. His own writing is so rich that he made me wish for more. Instead of a well-worn chestnut like Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” (however well played), why not more Masakowski?