By Felipe Fritas
After the enjoyable Negative Spaces (Destiny Records, 2016), recorded with his trio mates Brad Whiteley on keyboards and Kenneth Salters on drums, American guitarist Cameron Mizell deliberately plunges into experimental waters to explore a giddily new universe, Memory/Imagination, a solo improvisational effort that reflects on the fight for social justice in America.
Employing a geometric disposition of sonic layers to form contemplative neo-folk sceneries, the title track opens the record with dreamy tones, overlapped phrasing, and scrupulous electronics. A fine balance was achieved between the acoustic and the electric perceptions.
With the climate change in mind, the guitarist delivers “Melting” as an opaque, static exercise seated in an infinite drone whose relentless frequency serves as a pointer for extemporaneous adventures. This weird oscillation between the spacious and the spectral is felt even harder on “We’ll Find Our Way Out of This Mess”, which starts like an innocuous meditation but grows into an intimidating, feverish dream as the time passes. Somehow, the final section reminded me of the dark textures so characteristic in some of the works by the bassist Bill Laswell.
Sounding like a topsy-turvy version of “Happy Birthday”, “Toast” could play a valuable role in an eerie indie film due to its nebulous contortions. Also very cinematic and equally depicted with shades of noir, “A Turning Point”, creates a scenario dominated by delaying propagation waves, percussive tic-tacs, and jazz-blues axioms. Despite explorative, it is probably the most orthodox piece in this recording.
Mizell’s pinpoint control of the guitar is patented on “Vulnerabilities”, a sort of requiem that boasts a beautiful acoustic sonority in its intersection of effulgent fingerpicking and open chords. I can almost hear a touch of gypsy lament among the melodious, yearning folk chops. It differs from the static composure of “The View From Above”, where the guitarist counterpoints shrill-note pointillism with the shrewd work done at lower registers, letting the hope hovering in the skies.
Skillfully pairing controlled abstraction with American roots, Cameron Mizell probes new conceptions for his musical creativity, stepping on offbeat yet appetizing territories.
by Dick Metcalf
There are always solo guitar albums coming my way for review. Cameron’s guitar work is far more distinctive than many of the others, though, especially because of his ability to dig way down deep into his own memory and pull out sounds that are both intriguing and accessible. A great example of that is the longest tune on this release titled “Melting," without the aid of substances, you will be able to hear/see tenderness emerge through his able fingers. This definitely hearkens back to the heyday of ambient, but with a 21st Century vibe. I first reviewed his guitar work in issue # 165, where he got high praise from me. My personal favorite of the dozen songs he offers up here is the 5:13 “A Turning Point." Decidedly different than any other solo guitar album you’ve heard before. If you love well-sculpted solo guitar, this is a “must-have” for your collection.
Bird is the Worm
By Dave Sumner
Those gorgeous interludes on a Bill Frisell recording, where it’s just his moody guitar and some loops & effects? The new release from Cameron Mizell is pretty much an homage to those moments. The guitarist keeps it simple. He takes the seed of a melodic image and runs through an electronic time lapse on its growth. A variety of effects muddy the waters and shift the focus and opens up facets, but for the most part, Mizell is careful to keep that original vision intact. It’s the reason these pieces keep a sense of cohesion rather than simple fade into a formless cinematic ambiance. Plus, he occasionally throws in a tune like “Vulnerabilities,” whose folk music styling goes a long way to providing a sense of shape and direction to the recording. This is an album that exists in the moment.
By Stacey Zering
Cameron Mizell is a guitarist and composer with a passion for jazz, avant-garde, and experimental textures. Mizell's new album, Memory/Imagination, features nine tracks which blur the lines between experimental ambient music and jazz, not unlike the work of forward-thinking artists such as Marc Ribot or John Zorn, to mention but a few.
The minimalistic album artwork, which has a suggestive greyscale feel to it, really speaks volumes to what you can expect from this music. The compositions are spontaneous and essentialist, often based on textural drones, and on the subtle gaps between dissonance and melody.
The tasteful use of effect is particularly unique, utilizing loops and textures to create conversations with the lead guitar lines. The album is mainly based on the fragile and crystal clear tones of Mizell’s electric guitars, making for a distinctive and edgy feel. Memory/Imagination stands out as an eclectic collection of songs, reflecting on Cameron's penchant for melody, as well as exploring his most forward-thinking aspirations.
Editors' Pick October 2016
by Brian Zimmerman
Cameron Mizell is a New York guitarist who has worn many hats in the jazz industry—as a recording artist, as a label insider for Verve Records, as a pit guitarist for Broadway musicals and as an accompanist for various Latin ensembles around the city. He made his recording debut in 2004 as the captain of an eight-piece ensemble, and in 2015 he released his first solo album, a splendid collection of originals titled The Edge Of Visibility. That album—recorded on Destiny Records, the label he manages—worked well to cut a striking figure for Mizell, effectively separating the guitarist from the pack.
With Negative Spaces, his fifth album as a leader, Mizell assumes the role of the altruistic collaborator, rejoining his working trio for a program of painterly originals that uses sparseness and absence in artful, melodic ways.
Digging in beside Mizell for this effort are drummer Kenneth Salters and keyboardist Brad Whiteley, with whom the guitarist recorded 2010’s Tributary. Together these musicians concoct a sturdy soundscape out of disparate styles. Rooted in an aesthetic of twangy Americana lines, swirling contemporary keyboards and blustery hard-bop grooves, the guitarist and his colleagues slide gracefully between emotional extremes.
There’s edge and attitude to tracks like “Get It While You Can,” a slice of organ-heavy funk, and “Yesterday’s Trouble,” a gravelly country thumper. But interspersed throughout these tunes are “Clearing Skies,” with its beseeching keyboard ostinato, and the two-part title track, a slowly blossoming statement of grace and splendor. The album’s two arbor-themed compositions—“Big Trees” and “A Song About A Tree”—make another case for Mizell’s stylistic versatility. The former is grand and anthemic, a fireworks display accented by powerful cymbal splashes from Salters. The latter carries a sense of solitude and reflection, the way a lonesome traveler carries a picture of home. “Whiskey For Flowers”—written in honor of the annual exchange of gifts between Mizell and his wife—is a merger of the album’s collective influences: It’s got a touch of soft-edged rock, a splash of balmy calypso and a healthy dose of Frisell-esque folk. And, like much of this album, the song is a testament to the notion of saying a lot by speaking a little.
All About Jazz
by Jerome Wilson
Cameron Mizell is not a well-known guitarist but he is a talented one. Working with just keyboards and drums on this CD he goes on an expansive excursion through the realms of jazz, progressive rock, funk and country.
Just the first four tracks, which actually run together without a break, he goes through New Age meditation, slow-winding progressive rock, distorted psychedelia and finally twangy roadhouse country with Brad Whiteley switching expertly between electric piano and organ as needed and Kenneth Salters holding the rhythm together.
In a harder-edged vein "Take The Humble" and "Barter" are bubbly pieces of funk and "Get It While You Can" is energetic blues-rock in the Allman Brothers Band tradition that leans heavily on the organ. Meanwhile "Clearing Skies" is a stately blend of yearning guitar and piano reminiscent of Pat Metheny's prettier compositions, "A Song About A Tree" is a bucolic country melody and "Unfolding" adds a reggae backbeat to its pastoral twang.
Mizell has a clean, precise tone and a versatility that brings to mind any number of other eclectic guitar slingers like Danny Gatton, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Link Wray and Joel Harrison. He can evoke a pastoral sunrise as well as a sweaty roadhouse and this trio format gives him a basic but flexible platform for strutting his stuff. He really deserves a lot of attention.
The New York City Jazz Record
by Donald Elfman
This new recording by guitarist Cameron Mizell is composed of a great many elements but the sum total is a set focused on singable grooves and melodies. As with his last recording, 2015’s The Edge of Visibility, there is room for jazz improvisation, suggestions of rock, a kind of trance music and experimental sounds.
After the ringing atmospherics of guitar— augmented by gentle percussion from Kenneth Salters—on the opening title track, there’s a folk-rock anthem of sorts, “Big Trees”, the trio, completed by keyboard player Brad Whitely, providing power but also elemental beauty. Then, seemingly from an accessible left field, comes a mean guitar lick playfully morphing into the funky groove of “Yesterday’s Trouble”, which allows these strong players to wail as one during a driving solo from the leader.
“Take the Humble” is a dancing, jazzy gas. Led by searingly soulful guitar, the trio takes the tune into a straight 4/4 bridge before culminating with a definitive solo statement from Mizell and then a forceful but tuneful Hammond B-3 lead from Whiteley. These tunes are eminently hummable, reflecting the sensibility of artists who have created music that reaches out to an audience but never insults its intelligence. “Whiskey for Flowers” feels like a country tune with a mysterious underpinning. (Kudos, here and throughout, to Whiteley and Salters’ broad spectrum.) “Clearing Skies” is brooding and intense yet with a soaring open quality suggestive of its title. “Get it Where You Can” out-and-out smokes while the lilting “Unfolding” pulses with quiet life. Near the end is another take of the title piece, this time lush, spacious and hymn-like.
There’s so much to appreciate on Negative Spaces thanks to the cohesion of group, its individual voices and Mizell’s song-oriented vision.
by Filipe Freitas
Boasting an inviting sound and evincing a compelling dexterity in his original compositions, Brooklyn-based guitarist Cameron Mizell shapes Negative Spaces with rigor and variety.
Together with his competent bass-less trio, Mizell effortlessly mixes rock, blues, funk, country, Americana, and jazz with ingenuity, building up an inspired album that speaks with a proper voice without shutting up its main influences.
Ethereal and illuminated, the introspective musical piece that lends the title to the album runs smoothly and engagingly.
“Big Trees” is a short but captivating avant-folk piece layered with electric guitar on top of acoustic strumming. The song is energetic enough but transmits a peaceful aura at the same time, preparing the ground for the combination of blues and folk that are on the base of “Yesterday’s Trouble”, where Mizell’s haunting sound is clearly influenced by Marc Ribot. “Whiskey for Flowers”, unhurriedly immutable in pace, comes up in the sequence of its predecessor, immediately leading the way to “Take the Humble”, a smooth jazz-funk that coolly swings in its B section. Here we feel the good vibes of Mizell’s bluesy guitar, reminiscent of John Scofield, and the gratifying keyboard solo of Whiteley, who brought me into mind Lou Donaldson’s glorious albums from the 60’s.
The distinguished “Clearing Skies” is painted with grey hues but ultimately clears the clouds with the hope and affection set free from Mizell and Whiteley’s improvisations.
Salters’ self-assured drumming marks the well-defined pace of “Unfolding” whose beautiful melody remains in our heads, making us wanting to hear it over and over again.
Ribot’s freewheeling rock style is spotted again in the first segment of the record’s last song, “Echoing Echoing”, which ends up in an agitating harmonic turnaround.
Cameron Mizell doesn’t need words to show he’s a great storyteller. Besides that, the two qualified musicians that follow him have that clarity that facilitates his way of expression, adding also their own personal touch.
Additional Quotes & Reviews
"The main difference between Mizell and the faceless rabble of other similarly accomplished jazz-rock-blues guitarists is that he's a sharp-minded and witty composer and arranger with a knack for writing gritty, funky tunes with hooky melodies." - Dave Wayne, All About Jazz
"He has a jazz-rock sophistication and a melodic-harmonic inventive sense that stands out. Mizell is a talent." - Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar & Bass Blog
"In Negative Spaces, Cameron Mizell has made a mighty fine guitar album of songs that go an assortment of places but never feel exhausted from the travel." - Anthony Dean-Harris, Nextbop
The Edge of Visibility
BY STACEY ZERING
Guitarist Cameron Mizell journeys into the far reaches of the subconscious, weaving a collection of instrumentals that don't allow for easy interpretation but nevertheless conjure spellbinding imagery. Each track on The Edge of Visibility sounds like fragments of memories, cinematic visuals that unreel in the imagination. Combining improvisational jazz with traces of progressive rock and avant-garde experimentalism, Mizell explores the sounds of the dreaming and waking world. The overall effect is both hypnotic and disorienting, and adventurous listeners will feel their minds expanding.
On "A Second Trapeze," Mizell's guitar is mellow and soothing, quite unlike the rough edges that appear elsewhere on the record. It's accessible and pleasantly tuneful, probably the best entryway into Mizell's unique artistry. His playing here is fluid and engaging, and it's well-suited for moody winter evenings.
With the title track, Mizell's sharp ear for chilly atmospherics is keenly felt. Opening with odd effects that would fit perfectly on a Pink Floyd recording, Mizell captures some deeply melancholic tones that illustrate the film noir darkness of a rainy night. "Rooster Tail" is stranger still, echoing an interstellar vibe that gradually returns to Earth with clanging riffs. This is a thought-provoking work, one that lingers in the memory long after it has ceased spinning.
All About Jazz
By Jim Olin
How the mind liberally generates artistic transcendence is a phenomenal concept, and creating music is a customary form to express the ethereal otherworldliness of what is beyond the mundane. Guitarist Cameron Mizell's fearless spirit travels to a different cosmos with his album The Edge of Visibility. Mizell undauntedly rambles the peripheries of his imagination.
The album epitomizes a vast and inventive sonic encounter, an unconventional plunge into subliminal escape and mood-altering cognizance. The melodic and stirring "These Sheets" has a meditative current. The upshot is a peripatetic mind engrossed with nostalgia. Tripping down memory lane and roving through bottled-up mishaps are some of the knitted effects. The tuneful guitar on "A Second Trapeze" is a solid, soothing cut that substantiates Mizell's razor-sharp skillfulness. The freezing impression displays a sequence of historical imagery. Ruminating over discernibility and fancy interpretations elicits awakening, especially with the rich and reassuring guitar playing. "Everyone Has Blind Spots" hypnotizes a pensive soul. The introspective sound generates a disconsolate touch yet brushes it with an idyllic appeal, intensifying the emotions with highlighted recollections.
With its astrophysical atmosphere, "Rooster Tail" is a complex, eccentrically good and commendable track. It enigmatically gyrates the mind with its dark, ambiguous turns. There is a tremendous exhibition of menacing guitar flow electrifying both the sensible and the subconscious level. "Rooster Tail" is a challenging composition that is elevating and unsettling in its serenest form.
Film graphics, rubbles of musings, suppressed recalls, and yearned memoirs embody The Edge of Visibility. Improvisational jazz tinted with progressive rock and avant-garde creativity, this album establishes an experimental expedition. Mizell's daring approach lets the mind trek into an effervescent foray of conjectural, physical, and psychedelic ether. Mizell superbly presents high technical proficiency, artistry, and melodic skills in this praiseworthy and tastefully hypnotic collection.