Where That's So Cool begins and ends are similar points, but the journey between them makes for a fantastic listen. This 2010 album by Mark Gutierrez is a collection of instrumental pieces, centered on the guitar. Gutierrez puts his chops on full display by playing multiple guitars and layering them together, and the sound is further expanded through the use of occasional piano and mild percussion. Aside from the bass, played by Jose Marino, all the music on the album is flowing from the fingertips of Gutierrez, which makes for a staggering amount of sound.
Gutierrez is a remarkably talented musician, and it consistently shows from track to track. Not one of the ten songs on That's So Cool is lacking in intensely precise playing. By and large, the style is rooted in Spanish and Flamenco Guitar with some easy listening and jazz elements thrown in. Regardless of what influence he's drawing from, Gutierrez displays prodigious skill and energy.
The album's opener, "Two Years," starts off with a combination of a bouncy piano, soft rhythm guitar, shakers, and then the lead comes in. In many ways, it sounds like the traditional easy listening fare, but Gutierrez's lead playing picks up fast and gives the song a life of its own. As a comparison, if you were to take out the lead, the backing arrangement would be akin to something like the Allman Brother's "Jessica." While the song goes along, Gutierrez plays quickly yet gently, in a solo that is as soothing as it is dynamic. The second song, "Que Cosa" goes more heavily into the sound of the Spanish guitar and is more indicative of the sound of the album as a whole. The bass work from Marino also comes through on this song, adding an extra push to the rhythm Gutierrez plays by rapping on his guitar. About two minutes in, the amount of music being played is colossal, almost like a wall of sound, as more guitars work their way into the arrangement.
It's important to note that aside from Gutierrez's talent, the best part about this album is the mixing and production of it. Not only does every note come across in crystal clear fashion, but various instruments are relegated to either the left or right stereo channel, making each part easier to aurally recognize and enjoy. This is a fantastic aspect to That's So Cool, as very often, the rhythm guitar is just as riveting as the lead.
Two tracks to especially note are the title track, and "The Arrival." The former of these takes on a much different tone than the rest of the album, and goes much deeper into jazz elements, to the point where it sounds like it could've been included on a Pat Metheny album. A lot of this sound has to do with the guitar tone, but also the relationship between the piano, bass, and lead. Though the piano playing isn't as developed as the lead is, the sound of it all is rich and engaging. "The Arrival," instead of leaning towards jazz goes more towards Flamenco. The playing on this song is as fast as it gets on the album yet sacrifices nothing in terms of precision. The rhythm is engaging enough, but the flourishes Gutierrez plays on the lead, arrest the attention of the listener.
The only shortcoming of That's So Cool are some of the slower pieces that go on for a bit longer than they should, namely "Memories Of You" and "Remember When." Though these songs showcase the ability of Gutierrez to make amazing music with a different feel to it than his up-tempo numbers, the pieces drag, as the energy isn't quite enough to sustain pieces around five minutes in length. Both of these songs still serve to break up the sound of the album and display a bit of versatility, but they could be tightened up a bit to help the way they flow.
Mark Gutierrez is a phenomenal talent. That's So Cool is an outstanding instrumental album that could easily be enjoyed by fans of Classical, Spanish, Flamenco, or Jazz guitar musicians, or by easy-listening fans. The combination of Gutierrez's ability and the production quality is a perfect marriage that really allows the listener to pick apart the various sounds and understand the talent behind this effort. That's So Cool is not just a dynamic instrumental album, but also an accessible one that delivers a soothing listen, as much as it does an invigorating one.
Review by Heath Andrews
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Mark Gutierrez is not an easy artist to categorize. During the course of this 44-minute instrumental album, the Los Angeles-based guitarist draws on everything from pop-jazz to Spanish flamenco to Afro-Cuban music to Brazilian music. Gutierrez, who produced and arranged That's So Cool himself, and composed all of the material, can be jazzy at times even though this isn’t a jazz recording per se. And although he has been influenced by a variety of music from Spain and different parts of Latin America, That's So Cool never gets into traditional flamenco, traditional Afro-Cuban music or traditional Brazilian music; everything he does is a hybrid of some sort. So it would be inaccurate to place That’s So Cool in any one category. But one thing is for certain: Gutierrez is a talented guitarist and as a composer, and his ability to keep listeners guessing is part of this album’s charm.
Gutierrez is at his most jazz-influenced on “Forget About It,” “Two Years,” and the title track. Listen to these selections closely, and one can tell that he has listened to Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Metheny and other jazz guitar greats along the way. “Forget About It,” “Two Years,” and “That’s So Cool” won’t be mistaken for straight-ahead hard bop (certainly not by anyone who knows a lot about jazz), but the jazz influence is there nonetheless. “Que Cosa” and “The Arrival,” meanwhile, are among the CD’s more flamenco-flavored offerings. These tracks are not flamenco in the traditional Paco de Lucía/Camarón de la Isla/Tomatito sense, but they are relevant to what Spaniards refer to as “nuevo flamenco,” a term that refers to modern flamenco combined with anything from salsa to funk to cumbia. Spain’s flamenco purists tend to be critical of nuevo flamenco much like jazz purists are critical of jazz-rock fusion, but Gutierrez never claims to be a flamenco purist any more than he claimed to be a jazz purist, a salsa purist or a samba purist. And from a nuevo flamenco standpoint, “Que Cosa” and “The Arrival” are equally likable.
“Medianoche” has a strong Afro-Cuban flavor, while the melancholy “Memories of You” (not to be confused with the well known Eubie Blake standard) has a bossa nova-ish appeal. Gutierrez’ “Memories of You” expresses the feeling of saudade that is quite common in the music of Brazil and Portugal. Saudade is a hard-to-translate Portuguese word that refers to a deeply nostalgic yearning for something that has been lost, and Gutierrez plays with plenty of saudade on“Memories of You.” A Brazilian flavor also asserts itself on “Let’s Play,” the good-natured tune that comes right after “Memories of You.” But “Let’s Play,” unlike “Memories of You,” has an optimistic, upbeat mood. Between “Memories of You” and “Let’s Play,” Gutierrez demonstrates that different types of things can be done with a Brazilian influence.
Gutierrez doesn't have a lot of accompaniment on this album, the only other musician who joins him being bassist Jose Marino. And when Gutierrez needs the occasional piano, he plays it himself. The guitar is his main instrument, but his acoustic piano solo on "Medianoche" demonstrates that he knows his way around the instrument as well. The fact that Gutierrez has chops, however, doesn't mean that he is a flashy or ostentatious type of player. Gutierrez is a very lyrical and melodic guitarist, and isn't one to beat listeners over the head with technique or pyrotechnics. In fact, his guitar playing tends to be introspective, light (though not lightweight) and understated whether he is drawing on pop-jazz, flamenco, Afro-Cuban music, Brazilian music or a combination of things. Again, Gutierrez is not a musician who fits neatly into any one particular category of music; stylistically, he is all over the place. And between his chops, compositional skills and appreciation of variety, "That's So Cool" isn't a bad listen at all.
Review by Alex Henderson
The Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist/composer Mark Gutierrez is enjoying the release of his third production as a leader. While performing and recording for many years with numerous salsa and latin jazz ensembles throughout Southern California and elsewhere, Gutierrez has always found time to produce his own music, including this latest CD “That’s So Cool”. Playing acoustic and electric guitars, piano and shakers, Gutierrez offers a repertoire comprised of ten original compositions and arrangements. In the sole company of bassist Jose Marino, Gutierrez blends smooth world-beat styling and soothing ballads. Favorites include the selections “That’s So Cool”, “Memories of You”, and “Medianoche”.
Rudy Mangual, Latin Beat Magazine
“Spanish Nights” reviews:
“Mark is a masterful instrumentalist-as evident in his cd “Spanish Nights”. His single line melodies have such passion within his compositions and interpretations-clear, concise, and heartfelt. This is Spanish/latin/flamenco/and jazz world class instrumental music. Perfect!”
“Savor the intimate acoustic stylings of Mark Gutierrez in the quiet time of the evening when you are not rushed and your relaxed mood fits the feel of his flamenco and Latin style playing. The dozen tracks on this album are infused with sweet melodies and a soft acoustic tone. All are instrumental except for one track, and on that track, Gutierrez cuts loose with the romantic ballad, “Our Love”, sung in English (which adds just the right touch to the whole mix he has presented the listener). Tracks like “Spanish Nights” and “Flamenco Mood” also express that style in a robust manor, and then there are other veins of music that run through “Mi Alegria” and “Como Asi”, which have a Latin phrasing and rhythm, while “I Still Remember” and “Amanda” could be better described as contemporary music with a Latin flair. The entire collection of tracks all flow together as a very appealing romantic suite (or maybe “sweet” would be better in this context). So if you are craving a taste of some easy listening with a vibrant pulse and a romantic heartbeat, “Spanish Nights” might be just what you were in the mood for.”
New Age Voice Magazine
“With an album of his compositions, acoustic guitarist Mark Gutierrez blends the essential elements, plus a few that we’ve come to know through more recent generations. The balladry of Marty Robbins, the gentle bossa of Jobim, and relaxing Sunday afternoon moods of New Adult Contemporary radio waves commingle with centuries-old rhythms and harmony.
With bassist Jose Marino, the guitarist takes his his turn at “traveling the world” on a musical vessel. The session runs smooth with a perpetual motion. Gutierrez’ classical guitar tremelos and fingerstyle technique merge with Marino’s light, electronic ostinato. The album takes a turn in a different direction when the guitarist sings an emotional “Our Love”, introducing the pop singing practice of riding each syllable for all its worth. Gutierrez and Marino work well together. Their session runs smooth and should appeal to anyone looking for accompaniment to a lazy Sunday afternoon.”
Jim Santella, LA Jazz Scene
“This self-produced debut recording by multi-instrumentalist Mark Gutierrez gives prominence to his talents as a guitarist, vocalist, composer, and arranger. His ability to double equally on guitar and piano makes him one of the most in demand working musicians in town. Gutierrez is also well versed in many styles, including jazz, classical, Latin, rock, and flamenco.
“Spanish Nights” profiles the talents of Gutierrez simply with the aid of his acoustic guitars, his occasional vocals, and the accompaniment of bassist Jose Marino. A truly unplugged performance recorded to captivate the live sound of his string instrument in duet with a bass minus the customary addition of percussion or other instruments, the cd includes 11 original compositions with a bonus reprise of the title selection “Spanish Nights”. From the Nuevo-flamenco-inspired pieces to jazz oriented passages to more festive Caribbean and Latin American rhythms, there’s a whole world of music in this production rendered exclusively on string instruments and by only two musicians.”
Gil Rivera, Latin Beat Magazine
“Mark Gutierrez has a likeable Spanish style on guitar, playing music that falls between middle of the road Latin tunes, flamenco and Afro-Cuban jazz. On his melodic “Spanish Nights” cd, Gutierrez plays duos and trios with bassist Jose Marino. All 10 songs are by the guitarist and the emphasis is on soothing sounds, low volume, inner heat and light catchy Spanish rhythms.
The concise performances flow easily from one song to another. “Our Love” and “Spanish Nights” are heard in two versions with the former also including a vocal by Gutierrez during the second go round while “Spanish Nights” is reprised in abbreviated form at the set’s conclusion. But in general the music does not really need analysis for the strong musicianship and the easy going melodies are accessible and enjoyable.”
Scott Yanow, L.A. Jazz Scene
“I’ll Just Groove” review:
“The leader’s soft spoken melodies, his bassist’s foot tapping pulse, and the drummer’s lively backbeat combine to put you in the groove. Theirs is a pleasant sound with ample guitar improvisations. Gutierrez plays guitar,keyboards and sings two songs. As with his last album the compositions are his own. Each carries a bouncy aura, putting the guitarist in the role of a party host. As he sings “You Broke My Heart”, Gutierrez shows a different side. For this one song, he’s shifted from jazz to contemporary electric blues in the same way that a leading actor can appear as a gentle giant one month and a feared ruffian the next. The singer is in fine form: footloose and fancy free. His interpretation of the blues lyric spouts attitude. The smooth jazz road works well enough for most folks: that’s today freeway. Let’s hope this alternate blues route gets more attention from this talented artist. Gutierrez has what it takes to move his groove up a few notches overnight.”
Jim Santella, LA Jazz Scene