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.

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