DOUG WAMBLE QUARTET at the Top o' the Senator (249 Victoria), Wednesday to Sunday (October 29 to November 2). $15-$20. 416-364-7517. Rating: NNNNN
Doug Wamble doesn't have 12 fingers or three hands, yet the Memphis-raised guitar slinger is a rare commodity. In the world of contemporary jazz, where "chops" has become synonymous with fleet-fingered precision, the husky 30-year-old Wamble is an old-school feel player. That's not to say the closet Yngwie Malmsteen fan couldn't pull off a perm-straightening widdly-widdly run if he ever got the urge. It's just that for Wamble, creating spiritually moving music as part of an ensemble takes precedence over showy technical proficiency.
That's a radical stance for a guitarist playing jazz in 2003. The fact that Wamble's whole musical conception is rooted in gospel and blues hasn't made the transition from providing tasteful sideman support for Cassandra Wilson and Madeleine Peyroux to leading his own band on New York's highly competitive downtown scene any easier.
"I'm not really well known in the downtown scene," says Wamble from his New York City home, "and those musicians who know me hate my stuff. Even when I was playing with Cassandra, the other players didn't want me there. They didn't say anything specific to me. They didn't have to. I could tell just by the way they'd look at me, like, 'What do you think you're doing here? Leave!'
"A lot of jazz musicians simply don't like the elements of blues and gospel in what I play. It offends their sensibilities because it runs contrary to what they know and believe. For them, jazz is how you play lines over chord changes. If you happen to be interested in rhythmic variations that aren't based on eighth notes or things like texture, they don't want to hear about that. I'm dismissed as a blues musician."
Few of Wamble's New York colleagues get what he's playing, but fewer still could understand why Branford Marsalis would want to produce and release the debut record of the kid who'd only been picking since the age of 19.
It's not that unusual, though, since the Marsalis family has always been dedicated to nurturing promising young talent, and Wamble's Country Libations (Marsalis Music/Rounder) disc shows he's a fast learner.
Leaving out his regrettable attempt to add some musical excitement to the Police's banal Walking On The Moon, Wamble has an impressive grasp of Southern blues and gospel rudiments and can also use that heavy-strung 55 Gretsch Constellation of his to get some Dim Tangy Tennessee Twang.
Unfortunately, having the word "country" in the title and using the rustic interior of a Southern homestead as sleeve art may limit the disc's pickup appeal.
"I do marvel at seeing my CD filed in the country section at record stores, but I don't have any regrets about the title. For all the jazz fans who pass on it, there's probably just as many roots music fans who might check it out.
"The country reference has nothing to do with Shania Twain. It's about my love for the South and being a Southerner. There are so many great things about America that have come from the South and so many horrendous things that have come from Southerners. That whole good-and-evil dichotomy has been an endless source of fascination for me."
He's currently at work on songs for his next recording, on which he plans to document the group sound he's developed on the road with pianist Roy Dunlap, bassist Jeff Hanley and drummer Peter Miles over the past year.
"All the stuff I've been writing this week has been very angry and political, so the next album could be a bit more aggressive-sounding." Evidently, Wamble already has a working title.
"Yeah - heh, heh - I'm thinking of calling the thing It's Jazz, Stupid!"