Memphis guitarist Joe Restivo, a member of the legendary Bo-Keys, gets some long overdue recognition with the release of his first album. He’s been refining his jazz and blues chops in his weekly residency over the last four years at Lafayette’s, and he started playing regularly in the ’90s with organist Charlie Wood and pianist Mose Vinson. He also grew up watching the great jazz guitarist Calvin Newborn, who died last year and whose guitar flame Restivo carries forward. Restivo is joined on the album by bassist Tim Goodwin, drummer Tom Lonardo, and saxophonist Art Edmaiston.
Edmaiston’s punchy sax opens “I Hear a Rhapsody,” providing a space into which Restivo floats with bright guitar lines. As the song evolves, sax and guitar provide counterpoint to each other, with Edmaiston taking up one phrase and playing around it and Restivo picking up on a note from the sax lines and developing it. Lonardo’s drums closely mimic the sax’s notes as the song rises to its crescendo. “Tiny’s Tempo” scampers along briskly in jump blues time with Lonardo’s brushes and sticks setting a tempo that’s just a little ahead of the guitar and sax but that still moves the tune flawlessly. The slowly unwinding “Thelma” leisurely meanders, with each instrument creating its own character in an unfolding conversation. Restivo and his band deliver a swinging version of Thelonius Monk’s “Bolivar’s Blues,” with Restivo taking Monk’s piano part on guitar and Edmaiston taking Charlie Rouse’s part on sax, elevating the song to joyous new heights. The tune showcases Lonardo’s innovative drumming. The jumping title track allows Restivo to shine with his crisp and clean, never-waste-a-note riffs. Restivo opens his version of the traditional folk song “House of the Rising Sun” quietly, but he opens it up after the first few bars into a rollicking scamper that’s fueled by transcendent sax runs.
Where’s Joe? leaves no doubt in our mind where we can find Restivo. He’s establishing himself as one of Memphis’ best jazz and blues guitarists, providing innovative interpretations of standard tunes and weaving traditional phrasings and notes into his own originals, even as he elevates those tunes into new standards.