Acoustic Alchemy are the British acoustic guitar duo of Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale, and with "This Way" they are celebrating a remarkable two decades since their debut with 1987's Red Dust. For all this time they have been a quiet phenomenom, constantly topping the jazz charts in the USA, being nominated for GRAMMY's and touring the world. Following the pop-soul vibe of 2005's "American English", the duo have delivered their most aggressive and swinging, hard rocking and artfully jazzy disc to date. The regular touring/recording band of Terry Disley, Snake Davis, Fred White, Julian Crampton and Greg Grainger are joined by guests such as the buzz-of-today pianist Neil Cowley, trumpeter Rick Braun, saxman Jeff Kashiwa and, on the reggae-tinged Ernie, the great Specials Trombonist, Dennis Rollins. Just two tracks, "Out of Nowhere" and "This Way" feature only the duo - the rest are a fine mix of old-school soul/jazz, funk, reggae, and rock with a mixture of electric guitars, acoustic guitars and the horn section all combining to create a smooth but completely passionate album of classy jazzy guitar music.
It's difficult to imagine another contemporary jazz group pulling off the neat melding of reggae and Latin music that Acoustic Alchemy achieves on "Ernie," its soulful tribute to Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. But you're unlikely to hear sitar effects and hip-hop on the same track, either, except if it's A.A.'s "Only in My Dreams." The longstanding British unit, co-led by guitarists Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale, is in an especially expansive mood on "This Way," in terms of instrumentation (the guest players include trumpeter Rick Braun and saxist Jeff Kashiwa) and stylistic diversity. It's an album that pulls a Burt Bacharach-style melody on one song and utilizes tricky modern time schemes on the next. Programming is plentiful but restrained, placing the emphasis where it should be: on the clever writing and enthusiastic playing. --Lloyd Sachs