Friday, February 8, 2013

"One" : Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg's Unaccompanied Musical Journey

I first heard Jonathan Kreisberg when I was sent a copy of his fine 2011 release Shadowlesswhich I ultimately included in my list of the best of jazz that I had reviewed in that year. Then working with a quintet that included Henry Hey on piano, Will Vinson on saxophone, Matt Penman on bass and Mark Ferber on drums, the group cooked. Spurred on by Kreisberg's taught and polished guitar lines, his group impressed me with their distinctive, modern sound. I subsequently found out that Kreisberg was originally a native New Yorker who spent his formative musical years in his adoptive home of Miami, Florida. He eventually returned to New York City in 1997, deciding to pursue a career in jazz, and since then has lent his creative talents to the efforts of some of  the jazz world's most contemporary artists.

On his latest release One Kreisberg sheds the protection of the group format and goes netless playing solo.   Kreisberg continues to impress with his  deft choice of material to explore and  his clean, creative execution of these chosen and treasured gems.

I was predisposed to like this album upon hearing the opening lines of "Canto de Ossanha" . Baden Powell de Aquino was an extraordinary guitar player from Brazil who I was turned onto back in the early seventies by an astute friend of mine named Butch ( his last name now apologetically escapes me). Butch an I would mine the stacks of cutout records, randomly strewn all over a used record store on downtown seventh avenue in NYC.  It was hearing Powell that pointed me in a new and completely different direction of appreciation for the variations and delicacies that could be created on the guitar. Powell played a nylon string guitar and could create cascades of sounds with his various picking techniques. I poured over  his Tristeza on Guitar and his Canto on Guitar among others and replayed them over and over. One of my favorite Powell pieces was his lovely "Canto de Ossanha."

Kreisberg's treatment of this classic is beautifully rhythmic and delicately subdued. While certainly there is no replacement of the master's timeless work,  this is a faithful homage to Powell's breezily swaying guitar lines. t Kreisberg demonstrates a respect for the heritage and a mastery of the challenging technique required to play in the self accompanied manner that Powell made famous and that master Joe Pass took to another level on his own solo album Virtuoso.

Kresiberg's take on Gershwin's seemingly never stale  "Summertime" has a modern approach that allows the guitarist to explore the lingering melody without veering too far off course from its core. Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" is a brilliant piece of music that is played with great affection and some explorations that show Kreisberg has spent many an hour with this little gem. Juan Tizol's "Caravan", often an orchestral vehicle, is one of two songs which Kreisberg's chooses to use a new Indian Hill guitar, as manufactured by Montreal based luthier Michael Kennedy. This smaller bodied guitar is particularly suited to a finger picking style and Kreisberg utilizes it to great effect, strumming the ostinato rhythm while deftly picking at Tizol's exotic melody. His fleet single lines runs are clean, crisp and interesting. His approach at the coda is unique.

On the Gross and Lawrence standard "Tenderly,"  Kreisberg, with a great sense of quiet sincerity, offers a brief but poignant take on this pretty ballad. Simply beautiful. On Richard Rodgers " My Favorite Things"
the guitarist plays effective counterpoint to himself. As with most of the songs on this album, the explorations Kreisberg favors are not audacious excursions into the unknown, but more like gentle probings along the outer edges of the familiar melodies. His choice of material is superb, a familiarity with good quality music that has no genre boundaries. Take his subdued but effective picking of Leonard Cohen's  solemn "Hallelujah."  Kresiberg's delicate finger picking, again on his Indian Hill guitar,  injects just the right amount of reverence and joy in his playing. A homage as much to Jeff Buckley as to Cohen's work. The tone is warm yet bright.

Wayne Shorter is a contemporary composer of extraordinary depth. Kreisberg initially takes Shorter's "E.S.P." down a flamenco inspired road, running exquisite arpeggios along the way. He quickly shifts to a Brazilian bossa-style, ala Baden Powell.  Kresiberg shows how versatile his playing can be, effortlessly changing styles seamlessly as his muse beckons. The Jimmy Van Heusen/ Johnny Mercer tune titled "I Thought About You"  completes the guitarist's explorations of standards, letting some of his blues sensibilities briefly seep into his playing on this otherwise traditional rendering.

Kresiberg's beautiful electric guitar work has impressed me with its fluidity and creativity especially on his brilliant Shadowless.  I am puzzled, however, by his inclusion of two of his own compositions on this album. Kreisberg's one minute and twenty-two second composition "Without Shadow" is an  electronic, loop-like  piece that seems to have some reference to his previously recorded  "Shadowless." His ending piece "Escape From Lower Formant Shift", with its organ sounding ,electronically altered guitar  that morphs into an eerie renegade, harpsichord  sound is also miscast for this performance. While certainly interesting in their own right , both compositions seem oddly out of place in the context of the rest of this generally acoustic album that stands well enough on its own sans their inclusion.

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