Peter Kienle is a guitarist/composer in the John Abercrombie tradition of thoughtful, atmospheric fusion. The debut recording of his trio, Third Man, is tight, intelligent, and attractive. Wilhoit shows considerable Billy Cobham influence and Helsley, though sticking to acoustic bass throughout, displays some Stanley Clarke/Jaco Pastorius roots to go with his solid, straight ahead chops. All but three of the tunes are by Kienle (the others are by Dave Bruker), and those three seem to me the weakest on the disk. Kienle's pieces display a delicate ear for interesting harmonies and changes. His sound and technique are also very inviting: there's just the right touch of vibrato, phasing, reverb and distortion kissing his cool chords and fluid runs. There are a lot of influences, but they all fit well together. In addition, all the playing is very good. On the opener, "E.T.C.A.H.N." (don't ask me what that stands for) Kienle utilizes a washy, steel drum-type sound for much of his high-powered solo. "Evil Forces" opens like a vintage Mahavishnu Orchestra rampage (though it doesn't retain this feel)), and the melancholy "Blind Spot" has changes in it that reminded me of (get this!) Joni Mitchell. But in spite of the multiplicity of influences, there is a sweet, misterioso quality to most of the tunes, providing the whole enterprise with a consistent purpose. A number of the pieces have a slightly raucous feel, so that all they'd need is some furious comping on a distorted Hammond to fit nicely on a Tony Williams Lifetime album. In fact, one tune, "Kimbrellation", even comes fully equipped with a punchy, Williamsesque drum solo. Three of the last four tunes don't do much for me, with a couple - particularly "aBROXimation" - seeming to need a saxophone or other lead instrument to soar over the top. (Mark Shim, would be a good fit with this band.) On the other hand, there's some excellent guitar and bass work on the closing "Navigator. Clearly, Third Man leads one to expect some great music from this solid Indiana trio during the coming years.
Walter Horn, Cadence Magazine, October 1998, page 108
Three Wise Men
There's a joke going around that Bloomington needs another jazz group like it needs, well, you fill in the clever statement of your choice, but the emergence of the 3rd Man isn't just another jazz group.
A subset of BeebleBrox, 3rd Man began last summer when a light bulb went off over bassist Jack Helsley's head. Ripe for experimentation, the group decided to try a guitar trio. With drummer Pete Wilhoit completing the triangle, the 3rd Man group excels because the smaller format better serves Kienle's complex arrangements and compositions.
"In a trio every instrument has its own space," Kienle said. "There is nothing getting in the way."
Freed from the distractions of large ensembles, Kienle and Co. were able to stretch the boundaries and unreel their musical whims on their new self-titled debut.
"I would consider it to be the jazziest recording that I have ever done," said the 37-year-old, who cites John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny and John Scofield as influences. What he's getting at is the spirit of improvisation that lifts this record, the spontaneity that seems to lurk in every corner.
Both "Kimbrellation" and "Blind Spot" feature Kienle and Helsley in a colorful musical conversation, with the bass doubling the pretty melody line, while "Evil Forces" allows Wilhoit to increase his wingspan, as he raucously tumbles from tom to tom and lands with a splash on the cymbals.
Three of the cuts were written by bassist Dave Bruker, who performs with Kienle and drummer Dan Deckard in Freesome, a jazz trio.
The aggressive "Now, Then, Soon" and airy "Eyes of the Innocent" features Kienle providing the tension through pinched and clustered notes, while the rhythm section offers the release.
Several of the cuts were culled from Kienle's trove of tunes, including "E.T.C.A.H.N." (an acronym, said Kienle for "the German effort to compose a heavy number") which was written two decades ago. Originally the song had nonsensical and somewhat nasty lyrics written in a German dialect, but gutted of the words, the song takes on a life of its own. Kienle's scalar climbs and clear tone contrasts well with Helsley's thunderous rumbling while Wilhoit's tasteful touch unties the arrangement, leaving it free to roam.
"Without words you have all this open space and everybody has room to improvise," Kienle said.
Handling improvisation, one of jazz's building blocks, has been Kienle's struggle for his entire musical career. But it appears it is a hurdle he easily clears on this new record.
"I've been fighting with that for a long time," Kienle said. "There are two different ways to teach improvisation: the structured way you learn at the university - taking little phrases and putting them together, figuring out what chords they go over.
"The other way is like those who don't read music. Just go in and play what fits. I'm trying to find a space where those two worlds meet. Only now after 24 years am I finding that spot where I can hear a concept in my head and express it."
Lisa Sorg, Bloomington Voice, June 4th 1998