Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Hungarian Guitarist Gabor Lesko's : "Earthway"

Gabor Lesko: Earthway 
The progressive guitarist Gabor Lesko has released his eighth album as a leader titled Earthway on the Creativity’s Paradise Music label and it will certainly appeal to many listeners on multiple levels. 

Lesko is a resident of Milan in Italy and is of Hungarian descent. He was educated in classical guitar, piano, and orchestration in Europe and studied at Berklee for a year in 1988. Along the way, he also studied briefly with guitarists Joe Diorio, Robben Ford and Frank Gambale. He is especially known as an accomplished acoustic guitarist, and he has incorporated his formidable fingerpicking skills in a unique way to his facile fusion/prog rock/jazz work on electric guitar.

Earthway is a project that found its genesis in Lesko’s need to continue to create, even though the pandemic effects of Covid 19 made playing with others or for audiences almost impossible. Lesko decided to write or resurrect- the title composition was written twenty years ago- eight compositions and re-imagine them for this interesting and creative album. Along with his formidable skills at acoustic and electric guitars, as well as piano and electric keyboard, Lesko wanted to bring together some talented musicians to realize this project. He had a long-standing friendship with saxophonist Eric Marienthal, who was able to enlist drummers Dave Weck. Other musicians used here include drummers Marco Fuliano, Sophie Alloway, Eugenio Mori and Gergo Borlai and bassists Jimmy Haslip, Hadrien Feraud and Federico Malaman. The Milwaukee Brass Ensemble directed by Eric Marienthal was used on two cuts and vocalist Guido Block sang on one song. 

Amazingly, most of the work was done in multiple studios at a distance when personal contact was not practical.  My biggest beef with this fine album is the lack of liner notes or identification of the many fine musicians that play on the various songs. How can you rightfully recognize the artists who contribute?  I can only identify a few from reading some recent interviews that discuss the album and hint at who plays where. This can be a bit maddening.

Gabor Lesko ( photo credit unknown)

The titled track “Earthway” opens the album with Lesko using atmospheric electronics on synth, accompanied by Block’s vocal improvisations and a pulsing electric bass line, most likely by Hadrien Feraud. Dave Weckl’s propelling drums build the excitement. Lesko offers deft and emotionally driven solos on electric and acoustic guitar that just stir the pot with passion. This is an orchestrated song that uses Block’s ethereal vocals. Weckl’s drive, Lesko’s piano accompaniment, and fleet guitar work to take on a Metheny-like feel to this gem.  

The music always changes the mood with the fusion driven “Fiesta” utilizing a (maybe Jimmy Haslip) bassline and Tower of Power-like brass section with horns by the Milwaukie Brass that introduces a funky element to this song. Large elastic bass lines and a soaring, electronically enhanced soprano saxophone solo by Marienthal take flight. Lesko’s fusion inspired electric guitar solo is here reminds me a little of Lee Ritenour, erupting with power and fast arpeggios

The ever-ascending ballad “Still Here for You” has a prog-rock feel that features some of Lesko’s impressive electric guitar work. This artist can be a little chameleon-like in his playing. He has an uncanny ability to morph his sound as the purpose serves him. He is definitely not a one-trick pony.

On the ballad “Igor” we find Lesko going back to employing the piano and acoustic guitar. He is aware of pace and the diversity of tone that makes this album never predictable. This composition gorgeously states the melody and uses the variation of tones employing Marienthal’s soprano, Lesko's own beautiful piano, and  acoustic guitar to explore tone.

Taking you to another place, “Gently Obsessive” is probably the gentlest song on the album, with piano and acoustic guitar by Lesko on a folk-like waltz. But don’t be lulled, Lesko’s delicate fingerpicking yields halfway through this song to a scorching electric solo that raises the temperature by a few Centigrade before returning you back.

Never one to let the music languish, Lesko comes back with the funk/fusion composition “Push It.” The arrangement is by the young English musician Sophie Alloway who plays drums here. Bassist Feraud makes his bass punctuate the music with presence and Lesko plays piano, synthesizer and utilizes a string accompaniment to make this pop. Lesko’s guitar is never too far from the mix and here he expertly makes his presence known with his versatile finger-picked-like facility on his electric Schecter Custom shop Strat. He can make his instrument sear. Alloway’s drum finale is explosive and noteworthy.

“Mickey Mouse Loves Jazz” is a straight-ahead jazz that features Weckl pushing the pace and Marienthal adding a soprano solo. The bass work is anchored but not sure who is in this chair. Lesko’s guitar tone is a little different again and flows effortlessly, creating fluid arpeggios that simply bloom like flowers in a Spring morning.

The finale is the more atmospheric orchestrated piece “Air (Lost Key Part Two)” which uses dynamic synthesized background that sets the scene for Lesko’s guitar to take flight. The bass and piano play in sync and it has a cinematic sense to this music. Lesko has impressively orchestrated synthesized strings, horns, and piano to paint an aural landscape upon which he overlays his guitar solo figures that create this ambitious visual.

Master musician Gabor Lesko has been busy creating Earthway and he has produced a marvelous piece of music that shows his facility for composition, arranging, and a virtuosity that takes you in rewarding and unexpected directions. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Canadian guitarist Lorne Lofsky: This Song is New

This Song is New Lorne Lofsky Modica Music 

The excitement about searching for and listening to new music is that if you explore enough, you can find out about some talented artists who have somehow flown under your radar. My recent discovery of the Canadian guitarist Lorne Lofsky is a case in point. A talented artist who prefers to eschew the use of electronic enhancements to modify his beautiful, melodic tone, he instead uses a precise, thoughtful exploratory approach and a warm, fluid attack that speaks volumes to his uncluttered expressivity. The now sixty-seven-year-old Lofsky is based in the cosmopolitan city of Toronto, where he is acknowledged as a sought-after educator at both York University and Humber College where he teaches.

Lorne Lofsky ( photo credit unnown)

Lofsky’s guitar sensitivity was employed by trumpeter Chet Baker and he toured with saxophonist Pat LaBarbera in 1983. Lofsky worked with guitar legend Ed Bickert from 1983-1991, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and he was part of pianist icon Oscar Peterson’s touring quartet from 1994-1996. Since the early 1980’s Lofsky and expressive saxophonist Kirk MacDonald worked as a local quartet and on his latest release This Song is New, they are joined by their intuitive rhythm section of bassist Kiernan Overs and drummer Barry Romberg. This recording is the first release of music from Lofsky as a leader in over twenty-plus years. After listening to this great album my only comment is what took him so long? 

The session was originally envisioned as a workout of new material that the guitarist had brought to try out in the studio with friends. Luckily the tape was running, and the decision was made to release the recording of this intimate and enjoyable session.

The music includes seven selections, five are Lofsty originals and two are the guitarist’s reimagining’s of standards like “Seven Steps,” a creative take on the Miles Davis/Victor Feldman composition from 1963 “Seven Steps to Heaven,” and Benny Golson’s “Stable Mates” which Lofsky dresses up as a Bossa.

“Seven Steps” is given a jaunty rhythmic treatment and provides the platform to display the intuitive simpatico that MacDonald and Lofsky have developed after years of working together. Bassist Overs and drummer Romberg go faithfully along keeping the pace. I especially like Romberg’s rumbling drum solo and Overs lingering last note at the end.

The gorgeous ballad “The Time Being,” is an ethereal piece that sidesteps the moniker of “straight-ahead” jazz and demonstrates the ever-exploring nature of the guitarist’s work for finding alternative ways of looking at music. He calls this “…a snapshot of where your at in your personal/musical life.” It is pensive, evocative of self-discovery and his guitar deceptively sounds at times more like a comping pianist.

“Live at the Apollo,” which is musically related to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” finds a beautiful interaction between Overs and Lofsky, as Romberg percolates in the background. The guitarist offers a creative and silvery solo that teems with ideas and fluidity. MacDonald offers a Trane-inspired run on his horn that bristles, derivative but not imitative. Loving to create a play on words with his composition’s titles, Lofsky here refers to a juxtaposition of the famous Harlem Music venue The Apollo and Neil Armstrong’s famous “…step for mankind” trip from the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

 “This Song is New” uses an unnoticeable change in key through the melody statement which some may say was derived from another song “This Song is You,” but the guitarist assures any comparison to the two is totally coincidental. The slowly sauntering rhythm is carried by Overs buoyant basslines and Romberg’s shuffling brushwork. Lofsky and MacDonald are especially melodic on this and the group creates a warm feeling that wraps you like a quilt in front of a wood-burning fireplace; just cozy.

Following his penchant for creating pun-like titles, “An Alterior Motif” fits Lofsky’s tendency toward tongue-in-cheek. The music utilizes alternate harmonies throughout and there is a tension that builds up in MacDonald’s angular saxophone work and Lofsky’s subtle comping. This is one is a thinking man’s delve into unusual musical possibilities and deserves attention.

Perhaps the most interesting of the compositions is “Evans from Lennie,” which honors Tristano’s penchant for harmonic freedom and rhythmic variation. Lofsky was playing with the music of “Pennies from Heaven” when writing this one and was reminded of the work of Tristano acolytes Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. Lofsky actually studied briefly with Konitz. The multiple influences here include Tristano's angular approach, MacDonald’s Konitz-like saxophone statement, and Lofsky’s melodic guitar work that spans the gap between bebop and modern jazz, much like Tristano and Bill Evans did with their piano work. This one takes some deep listening to fully appreciate the nuances that Lofsky and friends achieve here.

The finale is a Bossa treatment of Benny Golson’s standard “Stable Mates,” which is like seeing your lady out on the town in an unfamiliar but spectacular new outfit. You know her, but she looks and sounds so different. The rhythmic variation enlivens the well-traveled tune with some vibrancy. Lofsky says, playing in different time signatures has become more familiar over the years, and he employs the time changes effectively in his compositions. 

Take some time, listen to and absorb Lorne Lofsky's This Song is New and you will be rewarded by this beautiful and expertly executed session.