Mike Moreno ‘Lotus’ (World Culture Music) 4/5

mike-moreno“Lotus” is guitarist/composer Mike Moreno’s fifth release and comprises of nine original tunes written by the front-man. “This is meant to be a recording that people from all walks of life can listen to and enjoy” says Moreno. “Whether you’re a jazz fan, a musician, a lawyer, whatever.” And it’s soothing, effortless and lyrical nature certainly make it just that. Helping the guitarist create this lovely laid-back vibe are Aaron Parks on piano, Doug Weiss on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, all of whom share a happy and long-standing musical relationship with Moreno. The quality of the musicianship shines through in its subtleties and nuances, something that has to be praised and is the perfect example of how well this quartet work together. There’s a lot to like, and it is the quietly assured flow of the tunes and group interaction that take precedence over any ‘in your face’ licks or abrasiveness.
The album opens with “Intro”, a gorgeously performed piece with classical sounding acoustic guitar. Moreno’s style of playing has a melodic beauty to it, one that succeeds in being technically brilliant whilst still sounding organic and natural. The intro leads gently into “The Hills of Kykuit”, a quietly intense piece of music that draws much from the skills of the whole quartet, bringing out the best from this tuned-in group of musicians. “Lotus” the title track is a stunning tune, one that seems to drift along at its own pace, with its own lyrically engaging contemplation. As with most of Moreno’s tunes on this album, there’s nothing too challenging to the ear, the beauty is in the detail. “Hypnotic” personifies this, with its deep groove created by Weiss’s rich bass, drummer Harland adding invention with his wonderful playing, and with some really nice solos from both Parks and Moreno. Rich and rewarding when you delve beneath the surface, “The Empress” could be compared to a piece of very expensive jewellery; its surface sparkles in the light, but you just know that what lies beneath is priceless. There’s a more daring approach on “The Last Stand” which opens with Harland’s flexible drumming, before Parks’ piano enters, stylish and bold, and together with Weiss’ talkative bass lines, they lay the foundation for some quality soloing from Moreno. “Can We Stay Forever” is reminiscent of an early Pat Metheny/Lyle Mayes composition, with its lovingly crafted interplay between guitar and piano. This tune has such a nice atmosphere to it, it’s one to lose yourself in completely. The pace picks up once more on “Blind Imagination”, a darker, more exuberant piece, before “Epilogue”, the closing track, rounds off the album nicely with its luscious ambience, like a candle flickering in the dark, growing brighter as the tune progresses.

“Lotus” is a lovely album from Moreno, proving that not all music has to be over complicated. It doesn’t aim to be anything it isn’t, with the quality of the writing and the performances standing out. It has its complexities in its writing for sure, but it benefits from its simplicity also… Or perhaps I should say, the beauty lies in the way the musicians themselves make it sound so effortless, resulting in a beguiling and very rewarding listen.

Mike Gates