When I first started getting into Jazz – back in 1979 – I was immediately drawn to the classic quartet format of piano, bass, drums and guitar. And while I started getting into other larger group formats later on, my heart was still attached to the quartet sound mentioned above. Which is why, when I began to spin Sam Kirmayer’s debut CD release Opening Statement, I was taken back to the “good ole days” of my youth. But it was more than just the quartet format that sparked all those memories, it was the music. A swinging array of post-bop/hard-bop that had my foot tapping and my fingers snapping! Strains of Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Sal Salvador, Kenny Burrell and Peter Bernstein caught my attention instantly and I was suitably impressed with the melodic direction of this CD. More impressive though is that Sam is a mere 27 years old, yet his musical soul is twice or three times his age, which suits me just fine!
From the start of the first pick-up notes of “Synecdoche” – an original tune that pays homage to Wes’s “Four On Six” – to the last notes of Booker Little’s “Opening Statement”, Sam and the fellas lay down a rock-solid foundation of swing, soul, chops, dynamics, hip arrangements and melodious interplay. One needs only to give a listen to the original “Jiro’s Dream” to hear all of the above components come together nicely. For me – and while I really enjoy listening to all the tunes – this one is extra special in my book! Whether it’s Sean Fyfe’s superb piano playing, Mike De Masi’s big walking bass tone, Dave Laing’s dynamic propulsion or Sam’s Peter Bernstein style phrasing, there’s a groove to this tune that never fails to hit me where it counts!
And speaking of Peter Bernstein, “One For Pete”, another Kirmayer penned tune paying tribute to Mr. Bernstein, showcases how respectful these players are of the blues and its deep connection to the Jazz language. Sam definitely put on his Kenny Burrell hat for this one and Fyfe’s “C Jam Blues” reference was a nice touch ?
The commitment and dedication of these players to this music is also extended to the rest of the tunes as well. Whether playing through the remaining Kirmayer original “Resonance After Dark” or traversing their way through the American Song Book with tunes such as “My Shining Hour” and “For All We Know”, they play with their hearts on their sleeves. Or put more succinctly, “they keep it real yo!”
This is certainly true in Kirmayer’s case as the listener can clearly hear the melodic and harmonic lineage that informs his musical preferences up to this point. His style is akin to the aforementioned guitarists mentioned at the start of this review and he does not deviate from that core underpinning, at least not on this outing. His guitar tone is fat and neck-pickup traditional while his comping and lines are referenced by a past that many young players seem to want to run away from rather than embrace. As Duke Ellington was known to say, “The wise musicians are those who play what they can master” and that’s definitely the feeling I get when I listen to Sam Kirmayer. There is no pretense or posturing, only musical sincerity.
As I close out this review, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kirmayer’s perceptive take on the old Sinatra classic “The Night We Called It A Day”. He opens up the sombre ballad with a well-played chord solo intro that is both sweet and harsh reflecting the beauty and bitter-sweetness of having loved and lost*. The band then comes in sensitively as Kirmayer states the melody warmly followed by thoughtful solos featuring both Kirmayer and Fyfe. If a band is indeed measured by how well they approach a ballad, then let’s just say that Kirmayer and the boys measure highly! Which, to be honest, is not at all surprising.
It’s obvious that I’ve enjoyed this first outing by Sam Kirmayer a lot and I truly look forward to a follow-up. If you’re a fan of great guitar based Jazz, then you just may wanna grab a copy of Opening Statement for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
*There was a moon out in space
But a cloud drifted over its face
You kissed me and went on your way
The night we called it a day
Music by Matt Dennis / Lyrics by Tom Adair