Paul Bollenback, one of the leading lights of contemporary Jazz Guitar today, presents a muscular performance with his latest release Brightness of Being. A sophisticated, funky and sometimes surprising, but always soulful set of tunes that should have no problem reaching an enthusiastic audience eager to hear some great music.
Gifted with a keen musical insight, Bollenback digs into a healthy bag of harmonic knowledge, improvisational shrewdness, compositional adroitness and just plain old fun to create a sound and identity that is uniquely his own. Whether he’s swinging hard and funky through the Stevie Wonder classic “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”, ripping through his own “Siberian Passages”, or creating a gentle nylon string vibe on the original “Breathe”, Bollenback plays his heart out, which is immediately evident from the first tune, “Together”, to the last, “Siberian Passages”.
“Together”, an original composition, is an upbeat tune that presents Bollenbak as a heavy hitter in the Jazz Guitar world. His playing style is surprisingly forceful as he plays through the tunes with a conviction and control that does not shy away from his being the only polyphonic instrument on the date. In fact, what initially attracted me to his playing, apart from his obvious proficiency as a soloist, was his dynamic comping skills. Bollenback’s comping and chordal arrangements are the bonds that keep these tunes swinging hard. Of course he’s also a very quick and fluid single line showman as is evident on pretty much all the tunes.
With a full and oft-times biting guitar tone, Bollenback is always up in the mix, which is a good thing. He’s not afraid to guide the supporting cast into areas that they might not have otherwise ventured into. Just check out the Ray Charles classic “Unchain My Heart” for an example of how Bollenback’s comping steers the wonderfully talented David “Fathead” Newman into a harmonic quest for “those sweet notes”. Bollenback is definitely large and in charge.
Of course it takes players of the same caliber to handle direction intuitively and in this instance you have some of the finest players on the planet lending their support. Cats like the aforementioned legendary David “Fathead” Newman on tenor sax, Gary Thomas on tenor sax, multi reedman Tim Garland on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet, Terri-Lynne Carrington on drums, Ari Honnig on drums, James Genus on bass and the enchanting Chris McNulty supplying vocals, all succeed at living up to their highly regarded profiles. And as you can imagine, all the performances from each player are first-rate. But there are a few that deserve special mention.
David “Fathead” Newman plays wonderfully as he revisits a couple of tunes, “Unchain My Heart” and “You Don’t Know Me”, that he had the opportunity to play as a member of Ray Charles’s band over many years. His soulfulness really shines on these tunes. And just for the sheer beauty of it all, Chris McNulty’s captivating rendition of the Neil Young tune “Philadelphia” alongside Bollenback’s gentle nylon string caresses needs to be credited as being a strong favorite of mine amongst her other enchanting performances. Actually, I dug everyone and they all played magnificently so kudos to all.
One other area of this CD should be mentioned and that is Paul Bollenback’s choice of tunes. As Bill Milkowski states in the liner notes “there is a lot of varied music going on” and indeed there is. Not only does he provide the listening audience with four terrific original compositions, “Together”, “Breathe”, “7AM Special” and “Siberian Passages” which captures Bollenback’s musical sensibility and compositional chic to a T but he also covers popular artists like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Neil Young. And if that wasn’t enough, he also adapts tunes from the Classical repertoire, notably Puccini Tosca’s “Dark Eyes of Floria Tosca”, and Classical Guitarist E. Garcia de Leon’s “El Desierto”. Definitely no small task by any means. And man do these tunes swing. Bollenback just smokes in parts two and three of “Dark Eyes of Floria Tosca” while laying down a beautiful chordal arrangement in part one as James Genus provides a marvelous bass solo. Bravo!
It just doesn’t get any better than that folks. The Brightness of Being should definitely make it into your CD collection and Paul Bollenback should be on your list of must see Jazz Guitarists. I know he’s on mine…:)