REVIEW: Marc Antoine – Hi-Lo Split

I’m not much of a poker player, but I do know enough about it to recognize the term used for the name of this new album from contemporary jazz guitarist Marc Antoine, who – it turns out – is a poker fan. Hi-Lo Split, just out on the Peak Records label (his first for them), is the French-born artist’s latest album in a succession of well-received efforts, beginning with his 1994 debut, Classical Soul.

Classically trained, Antoine has put together a career that first allowed him to perform with a number of different stars, and then follow that with a successful solo career crossing several genres. In the early days, he played for Sting, Queen Latifah, and others, and in the last decade has musically explored a number of different sounds, including combining contemporary and Latin jazz with a little urban funk.

Antoine is an audacious instrumentalist, often switching between various types of guitars and from nylon to steel-string, and experimenting with different combinations of sounds, but plays it pretty straight here. Most of the cuts have a Latin jazz sound and that suits me just fine, since that’s one of my favorites.

He’s pretty much in control of the whole process, producing the album from recordings made mostly at his home studio in Madrid, and he’s joined by some familiar accompanists, including keyboardist Frederic Gaillardet, Manuel Machadeo on trumpet, and bassist Andre Mangeuis. He’s also backed by percussionist Luis Conte, whose contributions were recorded in Los Angeles and electronically mixed in.

Although most of the cuts share a Latin jazz feel, they do show some pleasing variations in style and substance, and a good example is “Spooky”, one of the few on the album that’s not an Antoine composition. It’s a Latin blues version of the 1960’s hit from The Classics IV, and provides a new look at an old song. A funkier sound shows up in – not surprisingly, given the title – “Groovin’ High”, and again in “Voodoo Doll”, both showing the R&B side of the artist.

Leaning back into the Latin/Brazilian side, “Bossalectro” provides a bossa nova rhythm with an Antoine sound that’s reminiscent of Gilberto at his best, and “Cancun Blue” gives us some talented musicians at their best with a smooth and soft Latin soul sound. Every track is a good listen on this album, and it’s well worth acquiring for any Latin jazz lover, or for that matter, anyone who enjoys a talented guitarist in his prime.

1. For a Smile
2. Hi-Lo Split
3. Spooky
4. Silk and Steel
5. Cancun Blue
6. Groovin’ High
7. Forever
8. Panacea
9. Bossalectro
10. Voodoo Doll
11. Tomorrow

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