Phil DI Pietro
Janek Gwizdala roars out of 2005's gate with a debut cd that not only handily es
Janek Gwizdala roars out of 2005's gate with a debut cd that not only handily establishes him, at 26, as 2005's best new talent on electric bass but more importantly, should garner him serious consideration for the debut jazz recording of the year. Self-released, self-financed, self-produced and self-penned, there's not an element of this project that's not utterly professional from the playing to the packaging.
While Gwizdala is just getting some notoriety as an electric bassist who can play any style in the league of the world's elite, including soloing sax-like over serious bop changes, it's the writing here that should get him noticed beyond the relatively smaller world of low-end enthusiasts. This is adventurous small group modern jazz at its best, but with an exciting twist-it's performed by an electric band. It's a timely idea that's already come and gone, but is somehow recycled here anew. No fusion or smooth jazz here folks-this is the kind of thoughtfully composed, tightly arranged modern jazz that might be found on the Fresh Sound New Talent label excepting an electric bass pulse, fluid electric guitar, tasteful synth colors and cutting edge modern beats coming from a live trapkit.
While the band is most electrified by Gwizdala, electric-legatoist Tim Miller on guitar, electric keyboardist Elliot Mason and ultrahip drum-stylist Jojo Mayer, it's the front line horns that literally keep the breath in the sound spectrum. That group includes established tenorist and surprise cast member Mark Turner teaming with three of the most promising new talents on winds today, John Ellis on soprano and bass clarinet, Gregoire Maret, late of Pat Metheny's band, on harmonica and the very same synth-wiz Elliot Mason tripling and tripping on trombone and bass trumpet.
For an immediate and effortless example of this intersection of styles, cue up “Time Stands Still” as the horns and harmonica set up a swaying riff over Mayer's hip snare and ride shuffle, Miller weaving in and out of the horns and through the barlines. Turner then proceeds to devour an electric vamp before returning to a unison line with Gwizdala. While we expect ultra-modern, athletic playing from Turner at this point in the game, it surprises in this context, especially as Miller follows with more of the same.
In fact, Miller's work throughout should garner him well-deserved notoriety. His lines are executed with a legato virtuosity, springing off the fingerboard as if they are tapped out by mallets, not fingertips. More importantly, they are extremely non-guitarcentric and have a rhythmic sensibility and motion found at the highest echelons of the music. In other words, you simply won't hear Miller run a scale throughout, and when he plays you get a sense of movement akin to a kick-returner weaving through an entire defense on a 110 yard runback. The phrasing and melodic contour on “Time” in particular are exemplary-not many guitarists can blow in inside territory with as many novel ideas as Miller who, at 31, provides a fresh, promising new voice in jazz guitar.
The title track is gorgeously voiced between Turner's tenor and Ellis' soprano with support form Mason's bass trumpet. This sets up an absolutely killer five-note hook by Miller over a wood-toned descending root, 5th, minor third bass line that's as catchy as anything you'll ever hear in the jazz realm. Any other composer would milk this for an entire tune but Gwizdala manages to glom on a super-busy horn section that Tower of Power would probably find inspiring, while somehow not interrupting the continuity of the tune or form, only to then throttle it back seamlessly to the original lush voicings over that same hooky bass line. This transitions into a superb angular soprano solo by Ellis over Mayer's stunningly organic, jungle break. The horny horns return, Miller soloing over the top, at first more slowly than the breakneck section only to then roll over them unsuspectingly as they drop out, vortexing with Mayer's drums into an exhilarating swirl that peters humorously into Gwizdala's chuckle.
This unedited moment is a good place to note that this debut was recorded in front of a live audience, with every tune recorded in one pass. It's was also ready for consumption relatively immediately -recorded the 4th, mixed the 5th and mastered the 7th November 2004.
”Why” shows why Maret is such an in-demand player. On this heart-rending folk-jazz ballad it sounds as if his harmonica cries reluctant, melancholy tears out of the fluttering, nervous eyelids of Mayer's brush-ridden snare. Then Miller's cries ring out over Mason's lush chordal underpinning. With every note choice Miller defies the fretboard's layout while Mason's patches here and throughout are sonically right on—no cheese, no retro, no overkill— all just right.
”Joshua”'s pristine horn chart is a thing of beauty, especially as it crosses Miller's supportive clusters. Gwizdala's tone here is full of air and wood and perfect for the environs, surprising since he's an advocate of not changing his amp or effects settings from tune to tune , preferring to get tone from the fingers, not the gear. Turner's solo explores the full range of horn from measure to measure, so forcefully exploring the upper range at one point, you'd think Ellis had entered on soprano. Mason then solos on synth, conjuring each phrase into the next for a potent brew. To listen to Mayer 's work under this solo and then take pause to contextualize it over the course of the record, such as the swinging jazz burn of “Circles,” is to conclude he remains one of the music's most elite and most underrecorded drumming masters, and that his discography should see a corresponding increase in size.
Notice that we finally get a solo spot from the leader of the date six tracks deep into the record on “PK.” It's an eerie Brazilian melody brimming with ear-bending intervals, beginning with Gwizdala's emotive duet with the freshly minted Monk competition winner for voice, Gretchen Parlato . His solo is all effortless linearity and lyricism, showing on one level, that he's in an elite class of players and on another, that his playing is capable of bursting with emotional content on the level of, say, a Gregoire Maret, who seamlessly succeeds him with a bejeweled dart to the heart. Thoughout all of this, we get a marvelous chorus of voices containing sixteen pre-produced tracks of Ms. Parlato in various registers, all of them beauteous, that was triggered live during the session!
”And Another Thing” ends the date perfectly, a deceptively simple horn section of Ellis' bass clarinet and Turner's tenor bending our ear towards Mason's synth lines over the top. This yields to an expertly executed drum'n'bass jazz vamp between Mayer and Gwizdala that Mason springs off of into the chops-laden, absolutely liquid stratosphere-on trombone! Less than a handful of trombonists in the world can execute on this level and absolutely none of them look more like Vin Diesel ! Mayer continues with his absolutely sick stickwork as Gwizdala puts an exclamation point on his solo debut with a superb solo, supported by Mason's thick synth-bass.
Gwizdala deserves kudos for merely pulling off a date like this and for pulling together an independent release of such high production quality after a live studio session. But he deserves even more for taking the higher road conceptually, for jettisoning his considerable chops and flash for the sake of the conceptual thrust here. Throughout, he and his talented cast do nothing less than drive home a point that should be driven home to jazz' critical establishment - electric and acoustic instrumentation can indeed coexist to combine seamlessly to create modern jazz of the highest caliber and aesthetic, at times eruditely pristine and at others, wonderfully reckless.
Track listing: 1)Mystery to Me, 2) Why, 3) Joshua, 4) Darkness, 5)Time Stands Still, 6) P.K., 7) Circles 8) a.m.s.k.,9) b's song 10) And Another Thing
Personnel: Janek Gwizdala-bass, Jojo Mayer- drums, Mark Turner-tenor saxophone, John Ellis-soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, Tim Miller-guitar, Gregoire Maret-harmonica, Elliot Mason-trombone, bass trumpet and keyboards, Gretchen Parlato- vocals.
Jazzviews - UK
Here is a debut album of some distinction that successfully brings together elec
Artist Janek Gwizdala
Title Mystery To Me (Live in New York)
Label 360° Records (English Pimp Publishing / BMI)
Janek Gwizdala (electric bass) Tim Miller (guitar) Jojo Mayer (drums) Gregoire Maret (harmonica) Gretchen Parlato (vocals) Elliot Mason (keys, bass trumpet & trombone) John Ellis (bass clarinet & soprano sax) Mark Turner (tenor sax)
Recorded live at the Manhattan Center Studios, NYC, Nov. 4th 2004
Here is a debut album of some distinction that successfully brings together electric and acoustic instrumentation in a set of fascinating if slightly sombre contemporary jazz that provides a setting of rich tone colours for some distinguished solo performances. The controlling mind behind this project is one Janek Gwizdala, a young English musician living and working in New York and he has assembled some quite formidable talent, of whom Mark Turner is probably the most eminent in terms of his star status, to help him achieve his musical objectives. Next to Turner, visibility wise comes John Ellis, whom I’ve recently discovered by listening to Charlie Hunter and I wouldn’t argue against anyone who earmarked him as one of tomorrows frontrunners. The other members of this unusual band are by no means subordinated by these high profile names for the music operates very much as a collective enterprise with no one being particularly showcased and everyone getting an opportunity to demonstrate their talent.
Composition credits aren’t given but I wouldn’t mind betting that they all stem from the pen of the leader because they have a sort of stylistic thread running through them. They range from moody arias like the atmospheric title track whose theme is movingly delineated by the triumvirate of Turner, Maret, and Miller and “Time Stands Still”, which utilises the wordless multi tracked singing of Gretchen Parlato, to more abstract but quite accessible post-bop statements that benefit enormously from the orchestrated combination of instrumental sounds and washes. Despite the presence of synthetic sound the music never descends to the level of smooth jazz, thanks to the strength of the solo contributions and Mayer’s masterful drumming which presses into service all available contemporary pulses and applies them with flexibility and intelligence.
Apart from Gwizdala, whose playing is new to me, my new talent award must go to another Englishman, Elliot Mason, who is highly effective at the key boards tying everything together with chordal effects and space-age riffs but also doubling to great effect on bass trumpet and trombone playing in the post modern manner we associate with the likes of Ray Anderson. Definitely someone to be watching. Gwizdala himself seems to come out of the Pastorius stable and when he gets some space to solo (most extensively in the final piece) that influence is quite evident, however it is his contribution as a arranger and composer that impresses more than his playing, good as it is, and, without wishing to sound patronising, it augurs well for the future of jazz that music of such sophistication and originality is coming from one so young.
The recording is excellent; it is said to be live but apart from one brief introductions episode, which occurs before the last track (I suspect a mix up in the track listings) the audience appear to have been air brushed out because you don’t hear a whisper from them. It doesn’t matter because this isn’t superficial good time music that needs the endorsement of whoops and hollers to help it find its pace and my enjoyment was in no way diminished by the absence of a live atmosphere.
Reviewed by Euan Dixon
Word of mouth is still the most effective way of finding out about new musicians
Word of mouth is still the most effective way of finding out about new musicians, new albums etc, and for me there is nothing better than talking about music and being recommended an album or an artist that I’ve not heard of before - and this was the case for me discovering this gem. I recently attended the Bass Day UK in Manchester, England and met some old friends (like you do) and I was recommended to buy this album and to check out the performance by Janek Gwizdala, so I did and I was blown away by the performance and of course by the album so much that I decided to make it jazzfm.com’s album of the month, even though it has been out since earlier in the year. These features are not only about recognising new works by established talent but also about talent deserving wider recognition and this is definitely the case with Janek.
The name did ring a faint bell with me and that was the short review I saw in Jazzwise back in June which made no impact on me whatsoever and like most short reviews its difficult to really say anything, especially if the reviewer appears not to like the album. I think to watch Janek play is to really understand what he is about and that is a boundless passion for music and especially the electric bass. I did a little research on the net and found out that he hails form Croydon and his father’s family is Polish. He is 26 years old and has been playing the bass for only nine years. He is also a studied drummer and guitarist (his first instrument at age 12) and also plays the piano and trumpet. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and at the famous Berklee College in Boston. One of his most important influences was the incredible English bass player Laurence Cottle, as Janek says, “He inspired me to play the bass, he lived just around the corner from me. He refused to teach me but took me to all his gigs for 2 years. I recorded all the gigs and imitated everything I saw.” This thirst for learning is something that came across to me on seeing just one performance and from listening to this fresh and exciting album. He currently lives in New York which he says is as inspiring as it can get for a musician, he says that all the cats he hangs around with are into music even deeper than he is and he gets his ass kicked on a daily basis and this keeps inspiring him and makes him work much harder.
So to the album, on first listen I was struck by the originality of the compositions. There is something very English about the writing, almost Canterbury-esque but at the same time it’s got that New York hipness. This is a very unique sound, all the edge and power of an electric group with the warmth, depth and beauty of an acoustic group.
The next thing you notice is the playing, top-notch choice of musicians for the project. Drummer Jojo Mayer is a monster player, a master of breakbeats and groove, in fact at the bass clinic I saw Janek, he said that the drummer to him is the most important guy, he holds it all together and whether it’s on difficult time signatures like ‘Circles’ funky grooves like ‘Darkness’ or aching ballads like ‘Why’ Jojo Mayer really does hold it all together. Of special note is the soloing of Tenor Saxophonist Mark Turner, which is as powerful and searching as I have heard him. Also Elliot Mason from Norwich who plays Keyboards, bass trumpet and trombone is a real discovery, his keyboard solos are really fantastic, both surprising and exciting at the same time. I am a huge fan of Gregoire Maret, the harmonica player and his playing on this album is unbelievably beautiful (check out the track ‘Why’). As far as Janek's playing is concerned, he is a brilliant composer and a fantastic soloist; I think truly understanding his role in the rhythm section and as a support for the compositions and the soloists. I have to commend Janek for this album, his compositions and for his playing; he shows no fear and is not afraid to take risks.
This album is not a showcase album its more like a statement and I tell you if you are looking for something new, then go to Janek’s site and order a copy of the album. It seems to me that here is a major new talent, a musician who is not only a virtuosic player but has a real understanding of how music should be, incorporating all he has learnt about the past with an understanding of what it means to be in 2005. This album has all that, contemporary rhythms, beautiful melodies, structure, dynamics and that all important ingredient….passion and it really comes across. Janek Gwizdala is a musician really making a name for himself, not just amongst bass players but also amongst his peers in New York and amongst some of the brightest names on the scene. Just look at this list of people he has played with: -
Airto Moirera, Flora Purim, Hiram Bullock, Kenwood Dennard, Randy Brecker, Rick Margitza, Scott Kinsey, Lew Solof, Wayne Krantz, Jeff Lorber, Wayman Tisdale, Gary Husband, Jose Neto, Najee, Frank McComb, Billy Pierce, Cafe, Stevie Winwood, Ronny Jordan, Barry Altschul, Buddy Williams, Torsten De Winkel, Eli Degibri, Randy Bernsen, Helio Alves and Domonique Di Piazza.
Need I say more?