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REVIEW: Jordan Rocks: Stanley Jordan at the Dakota Jazz Club

A photo collage of jazz musician Stanley Jordan and his recent album covers.

No one sounds like Stanley Jordan. He famously plays with both hands on the guitar fretboard, as though he were playing piano keys. As he explains it, this “touch tapping” or “touch technique” allows him to bring the sort of counterpoint and rich chords associated with the piano to the guitar. Jordan studied the piano and classical music before he took up the guitar and jazz, and the origins show (as does his Princeton education in music theory).

It’s been three decades since Jordan first became known to the general jazz public back in 1985, when his album Magic Touch hit the Billboard Jazz Chart and stayed on top for almost a full year. His music remains so fresh that it’s hard to believe that Jordan is 58. His distinctive style and emphasis on always seeking the new makes him seem ever-young.

Of late, Jordan has been touring backed by Chris Wahich on drums and Ahmet Sezin Turkmenoglu, but the performance at the Dakota was a solo show. Not that it mattered: Jordan sometimes seemed like a one-man band. Jazz fans may be familiar with videos of Jordan playing “Autumn Leaves” simultaneously on two different guitars. Monday night, Jordan did this one better: on a couple of songs, he played guitar and piano simultaneously, switching which hand was playing which mid-song. For one of the tunes, he took things up another notch by also singing at the same time. Throughout the evening, one could palpably see the emotional connection Jordan had with the music through the intensity and excitement that he brings to every song.

The set list also included several improvisations on well-known songs: jazz standards like “My One and Only Love” and pieces by Bartok and Mozart. However, most of the tunes were from songs he had grown up with. Among these were the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, “El Cóndor Pasa” (made famous by Simon and Garfunkel), “Fragile” by Sting, and (for something more recent) Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”. In interviews, Jordan has defended this inclusive repertoire to jazz purist-critics, who claim that it is somehow inappropriate for jazz performers to be playing such pop hits. Jordan’s stance is that these are “the standards” of his generation, just as Tin Pan Alley or the Gershwin Songbook were the standards for previous generations of jazz musicians.

One never knows what to expect at a Stanley Jordan performance. At this one, there was at one extreme the virtuosity of simultaneous improvisation on two instruments plus voice, but also extremely enjoyable pieces like his performance of “City of New Orleans” (made famous by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson) that were done “straight” with conventional guitar strumming and singing, and little improvisation. Whatever Jordan tried worked, and the audience loved it.

Stanley Jordan plays one more show at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, MN tonight (Tuesday, February 20) at 7:00 pm.

Brian Bix