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Positive Feedback ISSUE 31
may/june 2007


Bob DeVos, Shifting Sands (Savant Records)
by Jim Merod



I first encountered monster guitarist Bob DeVos in the early 90s when he was part of Hank Crawford's and Jimmy McGriff's blues juggernaut. Their frequent forays to the now much remembered Elarios's Jazz Bistro in La Jolla were red letter dates that attracted local musicians, such as the recently departed Jimmy Cheatham and his wife, Jeannie. That highly polished aggregation was one of the deepest grooving bands ever. DeVos—tho' a somewhat self-effacing man—is not a self-effacing musician and his ferocious drive and eloquent licks literally booted that hilarious music through the roof of Elario's penthouse.

Bob DeVos has a longstanding habit of locking in with Hammond B-3 players of considerable talent. There's something about the way this man hears music and its internal voicing that's exactly aligned with the energy of guitar and organ put into low cruising gears or lickety-split overdrive. Either way, or anything in between, Bob DeVos has a deep feel for the inner torque of a song's meaning. 

Whenever I see the name "Bob DeVos" on a marquee or in a newspaper docket, I know that first class blues-drenched musical joy is about to erupt. It's with special pleasure, thus, that this stellar guitarist's recent album, Shifting Sands, lands on my desk. 

First, a word about De Vos' saxophone sidekick on three tracks here. Eric Alexander is an immensely talented young jazz artist whose recording output is starting to soar. This writer is in the mid-stages of reviewing several Eric Alexander-defined albums for Sharp Nine Records. To find this joyful, tornadic player among the wall to wall brilliance of Bob DeVos' new album is a treat in its own regard. 

Second, each reviewer surely has one or two favorite tracks on any album under scrutiny. Mine are "But Beautiful," the longest cut on the disc, and the title track. Perhaps the essential thing to note about Bob DeVos' approach to his instrument is that he does not so much "play the guitar" as he induces musical surprise and luxurious sound from his wide-ranging chops and deft touch. I remember with enormous fondness the many evenings I sat directly in front of Bob as he grooved with McGriff and Crawford. I remember, too, how startled I always was at his delicacy on ballads—a light, floating touch that perfectly supplemented, with discrete loveliness, the volcanic force of his roaring drive at up tempo, blistering paces.

Recently I've been listening closely once again to the improbably gifted Barney Kessel's work with Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rowles. The amazing speed and riveting temporal accuracy of Kessel's playing stand, in tandem, by themselves. Although comparisons are invidious, a good deal of Kessel's soulful fire and metronomic wealth are alive in Bob DeVos' artistry. 

The proof of my recognition, evident here in Shifting Sands is displayed song after song with obvious musical love. Simply put, Bob DeVos is one of the essential guitarists on the scene today. He deserves widespread acknowledgement as a master. Anyone who's not yet discovered this gentle guitarist, this unique musical cyclone, is sure to be blown away by Bob DeVos' vast good taste and by this remarkable album. This is not merely a group of extremely talented musicians put together for a recording date, but a mature band at the height of its chops.