Friday, January 31, 2020

Jonathan Kreisberg's "Capturing Spirits-JKQ Live" Germany 2019

Jonathan Kreisberg Capturing Spirits- JKQ Live 
Jonathan Kreisberg is a gifted, post-hardbop guitarist who possesses a distinctive modern tone, blazing facility, and an intriguing sense of melodic and harmonic imagination that can captivate the listener's attention.

Originally from New York, Kreisberg grew up in a household with a great and varied music collection, from John Coltrane to John Williams to the Who and the superband Cream. Kreisberg moved to Miami at the age of ten where he attended the New World School of Arts. After graduating, he received a scholarship to The University of Miami, held the guitar chair on the school's Concert Jazz Band, and got an opportunity to play with the likes of Michael Brecker and Joe Henderson. His early band, The Third Wish, was a progressive rock band that, by his own account, was "...coming up with new textures and being communicative while still playing intense musically."

In the early nineteen-nineties, Kreisberg returned to his native New York and reevaluated his goals as a professional musician. He concentrated on the importance of melody and harmony and honed his instrumental skills by working with a diverse array of talented jazz artists, including vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophone legend Lee Konitz, drummer Bill Stewart, pianist/organist Gary Versace, and bassist Larry Grenadier to name a few. Jazz and blues B3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith, who had been with guitarist George Benson earlier, was impressed by Kreisberg's jazz vocabulary and offered the young guitarist a seat in his touring trio. It has been a valuable multi-year association. Currently, leading his own group, Kreisberg established his most recent quartet, which musicians pianist Martin Bejerano,  bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Colin Stranahan.

Martin Berjerano, Jonathan Kreisberg, Colin Stranahan and Matt Clohesy (photo credit unknown)
I have been following Jonathan Kreisberg's work since being impressed by his exciting fusion-infused album Shadowless, a cd which I named as one of my Notes on Jazz's Best of Jazz in 2011. Kreisberg expanded his goals in 2013 by recording a moving solo album titled One. In 2018, the guitarist released a  gorgeous collaboration with the Brazilian nylon string guitarist Nelson Varas on their spectacular Kreisberg Meets Varas.

Capturing the Spirits is the guitarist's first "live" recording, and in the hustle of touring, the band members became unaware that they were being taped at a show at the Jazz Schmiede in Dusseldorf Germany on March 15, 2019. Unhampered by the pressure of being "on" for a recording, the spontaneity and free-flowing energy of the group was palpably captured. The inspired music was partially a reaction to the enthusiasm of the crowd, but make no mistake, these guys are acutely aligned, driven by a unified internal desire to stretch and expand their improvisational creativity, and they execute organically like a singular cohesive entity.

The album captures seven songs, six of which are penned by Kreisberg. There is no lack of interest in this guitarist's compositional inventiveness or his tactile artistry which seems to expand with every passing year. The cd starts off with Kreisberg creating ascending guitar lines on "The Lift," which features some driving ostinato piano lines by Berjerano and the pulsing rhythm from the groove-creating duo of Clohesy and Stranahan. The music has a propulsive, fusion-like DNA. Kreisberg's precise, mercurial lines, swirl by in a flash, directionally elevating you into the ozone, offering a wellspring of ideas along the way. The music is complex and swift, employs altering rhythms, modulating tension and release, and never fails to reach its destination.

"Trust Fall" has Kreisberg leading this swinger in front of Stranahan's beautifully paced drums and Clohesy's firmly anchored bass lines. The notes flow out of the guitarist's warm-toned, hollowed-body Gibson like hot maple syrup cascading on to anxiously waiting pancakes. Bejerano offers a beautiful piano solo that just accentuates the melodicism of his approach.

Jonathan Kreisberg ( photo credit unknown)
The ballad "Everything Needs Something" starts off with Stranahan's metronomic drum lines setting the sauntering pace. Kreisberg plays the repeating melody line with sensitivity ala Jim Hall before Clohesy provides a burnish-toned bass solo that struts along, punctuating lines with confidence for several measures. Kreisberg's ES-175 Gibson is his go-to guitar, but on-demand he can modify his sound with electronics that expand his palette of available musical colors. Here, he uses a synth-style device with volume control, that allows him to explore more modern sounds to great effect. Like some other modernists, Kreisberg sparingly uses electronics to create a very clever tonal transition that bridges the cutting edge to the traditional.

"Relativity" has a Pat Metheny feel in the song's melody, drive, and in the attack and tone of Kreisberg's guitar. He modulates his sound to increase tonal interest and he has an impressive ability to stack blisteringly played arpeggios into lush layers of sound, folding them into each other, draping over the sustained melody. It's a sensuous approach that reminds me of layering cloud-like, whisked milk onto a steaming rich, dark espresso. Berjarano's piano work here is dynamic, inventive and cascading in response. Stranahan's roiling drum work follows the music with unfailing aplomb, power, and originality, as Cloheshy's bass impressively anchors the repeating line.

Kreisberg's "Know You Before" is a gorgeous ballad that plays like a romantic waltz. You can almost see a movie scene of two lovers blissfully dancing to the music in a cloud-filled courtyard. Kreisberg's compositional talent is quite fetching and original. The guitarist's melodicism and attack have certainly been touched by predecessors like guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny, but he has his own style and sound, a sound that brings in layers of his prog-rock influences, as he deftly balances the modern with the traditional.

"Wild Animals That We've Seen" was first recorded on Kreisberg's Wave Upon Wave from 2014. This composition opens with a solo guitar intro that erupts with ideas before the main, modal-driven melody opens up. Berjerano's playing is explosive, impressive and recalls the intensity of a McCoy Tyner approach. When Kriesberg enters the picture he shreds with speed, confidence, and determination. Stranahan's drums never stop, volcanic and punctuated with fearless accents and boiling muscularity.

The cd closes with the Johnny Green classic "Body And Soul," the guitarist opening the song at his most sensitive. Kriesberg plays unaccompanied, sans effects, and explores the gentle harmonic possibilities of this memorable melody before the band enters the music. Clohesy's bass tone is beautiful, full, warm and carries a slow, languishing pace before he offers a soulful, pensive solo. Stranahan's brushes are gossamer-like with sensitivity. Kreisberg's imagination explores unexpected harmonic trails, interestingly interpreting the music without completely abandoning the familiar melody. How can a group take a revered classic and find a way to modernize it with artistry while retaining its essence? This group can and they brilliantly make it their own.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bassist Richie Goods' "My Left Hand Man'" A Tribute to a Mentor

Richie Goods and The Goods Project A Tribute to Mulgrew Miller "My Left Hand"
Being associated with a generous and talented mentor can be a powerful impetus to your own creative development and musical maturity. Bassist Richie Goods' latest album My left hand man, is a tribute to Goods' mentor, the late great pianist Mulgrew Miller, who Goods recorded and toured with for nine years.

Miller, an astute educator, was the Director of Jazz Studies at William Patterson College in New Jersey from 2005 until his untimely death in 2013, from a stroke. Miller, a gifted composer, often encouraged younger musicians under his influence while quietly creating his own musical legacy. I recall seeing Miller as a surprise guest on a Kenny Garrett gig at the Iridium in NYC (most likely in 2012). I marveled at the reverence and respect that the pianist's simple presence incited among the musicians who were present. Saxophonist Garrett's then pianist, Venezuelan born Benito Gonzalez, relinquished his piano seat and happily stood behind Miller mesmerized, marveling and absorbing Miller's developed pianistic approach and refined touch. Mulgrew Miller's influence on and stature amongst the jazz community was self-evident.

Mulgrew Miller (photo credit unknown)
Goods openly acknowledges the important exposure that he received working with Miller, but the bassist was also active in his own development. After graduating from Berklee in Boston, the Pittsburgh native moved to New York where he studied with two of the most respected bass players in jazz, Ray Brown and Ron Carter. Goods increased his exposure to the music's legacy by working with artists as diverse as Lenny White, The Headhunters, Vincent Herring and Milt Jackson. His talent as a jazz/funk master opened up opportunities to work with renowned popular artists like Sting, Chris Botti, Whitney Houston, and Alicia Keys.

My left hand man is a compilation of ten songs, nine of which Goods selected from the Mulgrew Miller repertoire. The songs were chosen for their suitability to the way Goods and his group likes to play. They like lots of energy infused with elements of  R and B; Soul, Fusion, Funk and Jazz, all integrated to attract a wider audience. The Goods Project personnel certainly deliver on that promise. This outing includes the Atlanta based drummer Lil John Roberts, two pianists- Shedrick Mitchell and Mike King, two guitarists-Tariqh Akoni and David Rosenthal, percussionists Danny Sadownick and Rafael Pereira, violinist/violist Amy Schroeder, cellist Felix Umansky and include guest appearances by chromatic harmonica ace Gregoire Maret, singer Jean Baylor and vibraphonist Chien Chein Lu.

The music is vibrant and energized as the potent rhythm section Goods and Roberts keep the pace always explosive and surging. The drums-driven "Eastern Joy Dance" starts off the set with some serpentine guitar lines by Akoni and some creative piano work by King. The always probing and vibrant bass lines of Goods lead the action.

Goods composition "The Left Hand Man," derives from a name that the bassist received from Miller and features a warm, soulful acoustic bass solo.  Goods creates fluid and punctuated lines that establish an unaccompanied rhythm in just over a minute before he transitions into Miller's "Know Wonder," which is arranged in a more fusion style. Keyboard artist Mitchell offers cascading pianistic lines that spill over the rhythm-driven pulse, and  Rosenthal's inventive electric guitar solo keeps this one quick and interesting.

"Second Thoughts," has an atmospheric, almost Lonnie Liston Smith style feeling, featuring Jean Baylor's wordless vocals. Mitchell's Rhodes and organ work are definitely astral-traveling as Akoni's guitar comps along into the ozone and Baylor's angelic vocalizations set the tone.

""Farewell To Dogma" spans the musical influences of soul, R and B, rock, and jazz.  Maret's aching chromatic harmonica sets the high expressive mark and adds to the other instrumental voices that improvise over Goods pulsing basslines and Roberts' throbbing drums.

"The Sage," is played at a languishing pace, its genetics derived more from the blues than from jazz. Akoni's guitar spells out the repeating melody line,  joined in unison with King's piano for emphasis. Goods delivers a full-throated bass solo that features his quick flexible pizzicato technique and an engaging tone, as Robert's tom-work creates a rhythmic blanket.

"Dreaming" opens with Roberts' rhythmic drumming accompanied by Sadownick's tribal percussive accompaniment. The music has a distinct Afro-Cuban feel and Goods finds bass lines that are vibrant but anchored. Mitchell's piano and Lu's vibraphone effectively mesh lines within the song, the two tonally distinct instruments adding interest. Mitchell's swift piano and Akoni's guitar lines dart in and out adding accents.

"Song of Darnell" and "Saud's Run" were orchestrated to include the strings of Umansky's cello and Schroeder's violin featuring Geoff Keezer's lush string arrangements. On the cinematic "Song of Darnell" the contrast to Rosenthal's melodic guitar work is expansive, gorgeous and nicely featured against the swelling and ebbing accompaniment of the strings. King's flowing pianistic improvisations are another highlight and Roberts ends with some explosive drum work at the coda.

"Saud's Run," a song more driven by a funky feel, utilizes the strings more to accent the rhythm and create an ostinato drive. Roberts' drum pulse has a distinctive cardiac afib pace.

The album ends with "The Sequel," a nice hard bop groove, and features Goods' burnished acoustic upright bass. King is an impressive player that utilizes a reservoir of intriguing pianistic improvisational ideas while never losing the swing. Akoni's guitar is soulful and Goods keeps the whole groove anchored and directional.

Richie Goods and his Goods Project band have taken Mulgrew Miller's music, absorbed it and re-imagined it into the bassist's own vision. The vibe may be less traditional than you might expect, but the music is played with respect and love and is modernized and energized with an unfailing groove.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

"Between Two Worlds": Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon and Brain Blade

Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon, and Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds Ridgeway Records
When you think of great jazz trios, you most likely recall piano trios, groups that encourage empathetic interaction and strive to function as one organically unified entity. Groups like Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian or Keith Jarrett's trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette come to mind.

 In Greek mythology, the  Cerberus  (Three-headed dog with snake tail) and the Chimera ( a combination of the lion, goat, and snake ) were three-headed creatures that incorporated the physical appearances of multiple animals, had three different brains, and at times displayed distinct personalities, but when faced with a single task, the creature would manage to sublimate the three distinct characters within itself and function as a unified being.

Much like the creatures of Greek mythology, in music, when you sublimate yourself as a musician to the unified purpose of the trio, three distinct voices can be alloyed into one coherent and organic voice without sacrificing the individual's identity. In the case of the trio of guitarist Romain Pilon,  double bassist Jeff Denson and drummer Brian Blades on their latest Between Two World, we are treated to three unique and creative musicians who are so in sync that they reach that magical space in music where the trio becomes almost mythical. The music includes ten compositions, five by Pilon and five by Denson.

Denson and Pilon have known each other for twenty years since they both attended Berklee back in the late nineteen-nineties. Drummer Blade first met Denson when the two played on Joel Harrison's Spirit House Band in 2017 and they too have remained connected. The album Between Two Worlds was the culmination of  Denson and Pilon trying to record together and enlisting the ubiquitous, in-demand drummer Blade for the project. It was a dream come true.

The album music is melodic and contemplative. Pilon composed "Sucre," "En Trois Temps," "Generation," "Madrid" and "Azur." Denson's originals on the album include "Song of a Solitary Crow," "Nostalgic Farewell," "Listen Up," "Lost and Found" and "Between Two Worlds."

"Sucré" opens the album up with Pilon's gentle and musical guitar, Denson's floating basslines and Blades precise drums. Pilon and Denson respond well to each other's moves and to Blades's subtle rhymic direction. It's especially rewarding to hear how Denson and Blade coordinate their lines seamlessly as Pilon solos. The music ebbs and flows with grace and fluidity.

"Song of a Solitary Crow" is a gorgeously pensive, cadenced sound that hints at the feel of a solitary outlook's perspective. Pilon's guitar is always sensitive, but he also modulates his sound with Frisell-like echo effects in one section. Denson's bass moves from contemplative to jaunty as Blades accents lightly, guiding without ever overpowering the music.

"En Trois Temps" ( In Three Phases) is a gentle waltz that features some of Denson's more buoyant bass solos. His double bass has a warm, articulate and rich sound that is quite appealing. Blade's drum choices are always unexpected, and he magnificently accompanies the music with subtle aplomb. Pilon's guitar at times recalls the gracious mellifluence of John Abercrombie.

"Génération" is a Pilon composition that features some of the album's most free-flowing three-way communication. It shifts timing and creates sections that seem like the music is being spontaneously improvised, three aligned minds leading each other, discovering new directions as they emerge. Pilon's guitar lines are the most adventurous here.

As the title sounds, "Nostalgic Farewell" is a romantic melody that beautifully projects one of life's poignant memories of saying goodbye to a loved one. Denson's bass solo is particularly moving and Blade's accompaniment on gentle brushes is as sensitive as the moving melody deserves.

"Listen Up" opens with a roiling Blade's drum solo that sets the tone for this shifting, jagged composition. The music moves very freely and is the most abstract of the album. Denson's bass punctuates his notes, as Pilon runs up and down the fretboard. Blade keeps the frenetic tune propelled brilliantly and the trio responds to rapid changing directions in time. This one is impressive.

"Madrid" returns the group to a more melodic path. I love the interplay here. Denson's bass is large and exuberant. Pilon's guitar lays out the melodic direction. Blade's drum work is so subtle and fine as to almost be gossamer-like.

"Lost and Found," a Denson composition, has a jaunty pace that features Denson's astute walking double bass as Pilon's guitar lays out the melody and Blade keeps the locomotion silkily moving forward. Denson's creative bass solo is nicely accompanied by Pilon's comping chord work and Blades restrained trap work. This one grabs your mind.

Denson's title cut "Between Two Worlds" is an atmospheric composition that features Denson's bowed bass work that captures mystery and yearning. Pilon and Blade leave the spotlight on  Denon here and rightfully so, but Pilon's deft guitar lines and Blade's splendid drum work here makes this one an enchanting voyage between two worlds.

"Azur" is the closing, bluesy composition on this surprising album. Pilon's guitar is so melodic and he always plays with confidence and panache. Denson's bass is stedfastly melodic and rhythmic, a lighthouse whose beaming light can fluidly traverse across the atmosphere without ever losing sight of where he grounded. Brian Blade and his uncanny ability to musically create the perfect percussive accompaniment is just a delight,

As Jeff Denson has stated "Playing music is a deeply spiritual experience for me-it is sacred. When it is pure it can be like traveling without moving-a gateway to another world of reality."  
We could all use some spiritual experiences. Give this record a chance and maybe you, like me, will be transported into another and better world of reality.