Frank Potenza: Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Guitar, organ and drums, is, in my opinion, an exciting and inspired combination that can do no wrong, especially when the guitar player is Frank Potenza, alongside organist Joe Bagg and drummer Steve Barnes. Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue,Potenza’s latest release, is a wonderful testament to the long honored tradition of the Organ Trio as he “channels” those who came before him in a swinging session of ten tunes that really live up to the CD title.

What I like about Potenza is that he’s not trying to reinvent the Jazz Guitar wheel. Instead, he’s kickin’ it old school in the tradition of Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, and other’s of that ilk. Just straight ahead classic tunes, great lines and hip arrangements that sound fresh, flanking an enthusiastic spirit that is as infectious as it is swinging!

And speaking of Joe Pass, Potenza pays tribute to his friend and mentor by covering the classic Bobby Gentry tune “Ode To Billie Joe”, which Pass also covered on his timeless Intercontinental album. It’s obvious that Potenza took to heart whatever lessons Joe Pass imparted as he lays down a solid boogaloo rhythm intro before warmly stating the melody. The solo section showcases Potenza’s full bag of blues and double-time bop lines that would surely have Mr. Pass smiling from the great beyond. Bagg’s is of course no slouch on this tune either…:)

From the first tune, “Ready and Able”, to the last, “You’ve Got a Friend”, Potenza, Baggs and Barnes, cook on all burners as they blow through each tune with a seasoned proficiency that only comes from many years of dedicated studying, playing and paying one’s dues to the music. After hearing the serious groove and musical empathy that connects these players as a unit, I realize it’s no wonder Potenza has Baggs and Barnes in his musical corner. These are serious cats…pure and simple!!

Another serious cat is Flautist Holly Hoffman who joins Potenza and the boys on the Jimmy Smith tune “Ready and Able” with an energetic statement of the bop-head before she rips through the Rhythm Changes form. Of special note is the rhythmic interplay between flute and drums as the band stops halfway through her chorus, allowing Barnes and Hoffman to tear it up in a strong exchange of improvisational empathy. A cool arranging device that should have you nodding like a head-banger…without the hearing loss! Hoffman then replicates her improvisational prowess on the Lee Morgan tune “Party Time” along with Potenza and Baggs, who get to strut their stuff on this minor blues tune.

Slowing things down a bit, Potenza and Hoffman play Victor Young and Jack Elliott’s beautiful “A Weaver of Dreams”. Potenza opens up with a gorgeous chord-melody intro that sets up Hoffman’s warm flute tone nicely throughout the melody. Taking the first solo, Hoffman is ably supported by Potenza’s walking bass/chords as he confidentially comps behind her. His own solo on this tune is a nice blend of single note lines and chord shots that once again shows us that Potenza’s ears were wide open when hanging out with Joe.

Of course, Joe Pass is not the only guitar influence on Potenza’ radar as he also digs into the bluesiness of Benson and Montgomery. Check out Potenza’ version of the classic Montgomery tune “Road Song/OGD” for a taste. And not to be missed is Steve Barnes solo skills as he gets to really shine throughout this tune and on the bluesy “I’m Walkin”.

As for the Benson influence, check out Potenza’ exciting solo on Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, where he harkens back to Benson’s Breezin‘ period with some smooth lines and bluesy double stops. A definite winner in my book…:)

Now, as much as this album is focused around Potenza’ wonderful guitar playing, it turns out that he’s also a decent crooner as well, as is evident on “I’m Walkin” and “I Wanna Be Loved”. Potenza does a nice job singing, at times reminding me of Joe Williams, especially on the tune “I Wanna Be Loved”. A definite nice change of pace!

As I wrap this review up, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one original tune on this CD penned by Potenza: “Jacaranda”. Named after a tropical American tree in Southern California, Jacaranda is a “medium tempo Samba” that features a joyful melody and warm solos, bringing to mind a sunny climate and a simple way of life. Well, at least to me anyway! An enjoyable tune that will hopefully extend to more original compositions on future albums. Only time will tell.

So, if you are searching for great players and great tunes in the straight-ahead department, then look no further than the Frank Potenza Trio. His playing is spot-on, the band is seasoned and the tunes are smokin’! I dare say, you won’t be disappointed!

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