Saturday 21 November 2009

Joshua Breakstone Trio: "No One New" reviewed

Joshua Breakstone is a jazz guitarist with a distinguished heritage. Born in New Jersey in 1955, taught by the great bop guitarist Sal Salvador and gigging early on with the likes of Warne Marsh and Sonny Stitt, Joshua has kept up a steady stream of recording dates since the 1980s. Stylistically, he comes out of bop and you can hear traces of Kenny Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. However, his sound is his own and his solos stand out for their compositional strength and quiet purposefulness.

I've recently been exploring his recording and believe that his most recent work on the Capri label is his best yet, particularly his album of French tunes, Memoire - The French Sessions, Vol. 2 with Bassist Louis Petrucciani (brother of Michel) and drummer Christian Salut; and his latest, No One New with Lisle Atkinson on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. Recorded in France, Memoire stands out for its laid back feel, whereas No One New, recorded in NJ, has a more intense feel overall.

No On New kicks off with a JB orginal Over-Done, a fast paced tune with several minutes of single note soloing, rich in ideas with each idea leading seamlessly on to the next. The solos culminate in eights traded between Joshua and Eliot. For Me is a straightahead mid-tempo tune. Strong melody and a beautiful balanced solo - at this tempo you can really hear the subtleties of expression, the tasteful choice of notes and the spot on double-time runs. JB's The Unknown One takes the tempo down another notch to a relaxing bass nova, the tune featuring some tasteful chord voicings. Lisle's Come on Baby has a nice tongue-in-cheek feel and features a fine, swinging solo by the composer. Blues Heretofore is a mid-tempo tune where Joshua and the rhythm section just lock together and play as one unit. Eliot's brushes work particularly well at the start and then he shifts the intensity up as he switches to sticks. Joshua's solos often quote other tunes, Sonny Rollin's Alfie being one caught here. In true Wes style, Joshua's solo culminates in some nice chordal soloing. No One New is is another fast tempo tune with a long, interesting head, followed by another nice workout and eights traded between Joshua and Eliot.

For me, the standout track has to be Jimmy Rowles' ballad The Peacocks. In itself a beautiful tune, this has a lovely pared down quality. There is very little reverb on the guitar and the dryness increases the sense of intimacy and intensity. There is no studio trickery to enhance the sound, just Joshua's art and his desire to express. Joshua plays very few chords in the piece but the soloing just pulls you in and guides you through the changes. There is plenty of space, very strong melodic ideas throughout and Joshua's bell-like tone never sounding better.

The album ends with a rousing, swinging version of Joe Henderson's The Kicker which, when I first heard it, had me reaching for the great version by Grant Green with Joe on Grant's Solid album.

Although there may not be anything startling new on this album, No One New is the culmination to date of a life's work and is a masterclass in jazz guitar trio playing. As such, it deserves to be listened to by any serious jazz guitarist.

As well as recording, Joshua gigs regularly, including tours of Japan a couple of times a year, and teaching. You can find out more from his website.

UPDATE! A couple of transcriptions of solos from the CD have been posted on Joshua's site:

Thursday 19 November 2009

Kurt Rosenwinkel - new website

I really missed Kurt's website after the discussion forum was taken due to "hacking by Russians" (What is this? The Cold War?!). The forum was a great place to discuss Kurt's work and to chat directly with Kurt.

Kurt's website is now back:

And he has a new CD out - playing standards, mostly ballads. This is the repertoire I saw him playing in London earlier in the year (see review below). What's more it stars my favourite drummer - Eric Harland. Kurt is no longer with Verve and this CD release is out on his own label. I've ordered it and look forward to reviewing it here.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Kirk Lightsey Trio, Brighton Jazz Club, 6 November 2009

Last night US pianist Kirk Lightsey played with an energy and intensity that belied his years (he's in his Seventies). Kirk delighted the audience with a set that was passionate, joyful and virtuosic.

Elements of his playing include they way he balances hard bop soulfulness and with the harmonic complexities of Bill Evans. He has a fiercely strong left hand - jabbing away in a bebop style, playing arpeggios, melodies - giving a sense of a churning torrent of energy. His playing is peppered with quotes - Monk, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Oscar Pettiford, jazz tunes and standards.

The humming, growling and singing of his accompanying vocals (in the tradition of Bud Powell & Keith Jarrett), rocking on his chair, playing with outstretched arms, all give the sense that he is putting everything into his performance. Reinforced by his catch-phrase, "Woweee! If you're not having fun by now . . ."

His set included tributes to friends like Tony Williams (Peewee), Wayne Shorter (Infant Eyes) and Miles Davis (Freedom Jazz Dance). It one point he did a Debussy-like cadenza and segued into a beautiful version of the ballad Spring is Here which, despite his extrovert disposition had some tender moments and harmonies reminiscent of the Bill Evans' take on the tune.

As with all good piano trios there was a sense of conversation with the other two members, with some outstanding playing from a poker-faced Dave Wickens. Kirk constantly gave them visual and verbal cues (F minor!), laughed at the musical jokes, smiled with appreciation at their playing and made sure that the audience gave them well-deserved recognition. They did a rousing version of Dave Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way, which led into an extended drum solo by Dave Wickens with some very funny musical banter between Kirk and bassist Dave Whitford as they tried to synchronise the kicks at the start of each chorus of the drum solo.

This was one of the best gigs I have seen at the Brighton Jazz Club in recent years, with Kirk bringing a warmth and humour to the club's somewhat austere setting.