"Angel Eyes"

“…their solos are just as appealing as the songs they are playing…John Carlini shows in his warm lines and rich chords he knows where the best notes reside.”

-- Zan Stewart; The Star Ledger (New Jersey)

"If you're serious about good jazz, take a look at Angel Eyes."

-- Steven Stone; Vintage Guitar Magazine

"You've made those standards come alive in  a brand new way. Proud to know you Johnny. Proud. And I brag "This is the guy who showed me octaves! "


That cd will be in my car 'til I sell the sucker.......................the car that is."


-- Doug MacLeod; Blues singer and LA disc jockey


Vintage Guitar Magazine


This is one of those records that seems to float under the spotlight and escapes around a corner before you really notice it. Stiernberg is a wonderful mandolin player, and Carlini as fine an acoustic guitarist as you're likely to hear. They're joined here by bassist, Jim Cox, and drummer, Phil Gratteau, on 11 standards. These are songs you know and love well, and there are no odd twists or turns, just beautiful, heartfelt performances.


The light swing of cuts like "The Way You Look Tonight" seems at once effortless and full of feeling. Stiernberg opens with a fine solo while Carlini comps. His sense of harmony on the mandolin is truly a wonder to behold. Carlini then jumps in with fine single-line work before a masterful chord solo. That formula really repeats throughout the record. You hear tunes like "Body and Soul", "Tenderly", "Round Midnight", "They Can't Take That Away From Me", and lots more. They are all dominated by great solos by Carlini and Stiernberg, and great empathy between all four players. Some of the music is haunting, some just plain swings, but it's all well done, and any person that plays or loves stringed instruments should love a record like this.

-- JH

Review of Angel Eyes: Jazz Improv Magazine


Strings sensitize a recording of some tradition laden with dual personalities. Records like this sometimes provoke unfair comparisons (although here the two prominent players play completely different instruments). Don Stiernberg's mandolin expertise is equal to that held by John Carlini on guitar. In fact, both players exhibit a philosophical interest in how strings interact with the spirit of jazz exploration. Angel Eyes casts timeless favorites in an easy listening, textured string environment.


All stages of the recording process are spectacularly achieved. Angel Eyes is a very, very clean recording. Producers expertly delivered on the mandate of separating the tonal textures of the rhythm instruments from the primary strings while still allowing each its rightful contribution to the group.


From Gratteau's swinging brushes and Stiernberg's lush chords, it is clear that rhythm, in bass and drum form, provide seamless support from which comfortable, seasoned improvisations strut their autonomous selves. As Stiernberg and Carlini hand the creative ball back and forth, on "The Way You Look Tonight", one feels a unified desire to highlight their differences together.


Stiernberg's mandolin shines in the bossa context. The tuned up textures of the mandolin lend an exotic feel to the laid back Latin espoused on "All the Things You Are." Carlini's improvisation is lined with shuffling melodic lines and beautifully placed chords. The temperance of the rhythm section contributes to the entirely warm vibe of the quartet.


On "My One And Only Love", Don Stiernberg fans the end of each lyrical line to place an ethnocentrically different character over Carlini's strum-to-the-bar approach - one that changes more to a riff and arpeggio application in solo. The end result is a classically blue ballad with an odd optimism.


The conversation deepens on "Tenderly". John Carlini unveils a melody line of chords in measured respect to the group's level of immersion. Don Stiernberg swings nicely in reply, and in complete conjunction with the underscore from Cox and Gratteau.


Rhythm conversation almost stops on "Round Midnight". By this point, Stiernberg and Carlini have clearly delineated the differences in their playing personae. Don's mandolin work swings but never far from the resonance that he achieves with swift repetition on individual strings. John's guitar resonates from the tones of an instrument that is endemically more resonant (due primarily to lower tuning). Nevertheless, Stiernberg and Carlini resonate.


The swagger of Gershwin brings "They Can't Take That Away From Me" back to a shuffle. The optimism of the original belies this excellent facsimile. Veteran jazz players often call it "a nice little ditty". More rudimentary listeners, however, cannot help but nod and embrace the joyous melody within. This version jams like nowhere else on the record. The music is hardly new, but the aura is fresh.


The pivot from a slower framework to the hardest jazz compels us to "Angel Eyes". Carlini and Stiernberg mildly combust into a heightened degree of improvised jamming. This tune could have been extended to let all four players cook outside of the sentimental structure.


Angel Eyes empowers Don Stiernberg and John Carlini to demonstrate the contrasting appeals of mandolin and guitar. The collection of nostalgic musical snapshots shines - from the musical execution to the acoustic and dynamic recording. Quartet worked very well for the players' collective mandate. If the album stays in a strictly defined groove, it certainly refines the groove.


-- Gregory. J. Robb