Guitarist/Composer Mark Kleinhaut could make a career of this: getting together with different horn men and backing them with his trio for yearly CD releases. Last year it was trumpeter Tiger Okkoshi on Chasing Tales. This time out Klienhaut has enlisted alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, the #1 alto saxophonist in Downbeat Magazine's Critics' Poll, 1989-92; an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers/George Coleman Octet alum; and leader of his own groups that have launched the careers of the likes of Christian McBride, Terrell Stafford and Robin Eubanks.
The disc opens with "Ferdinand and Isabelle," an upbeat Latin vibe that sets the tone—clean lines and ringing tones, from both Kleinhaut and Watson. The composition brings back memories of Dizzy Gillespie: lots of joyful notes over the Latin groove, with Watson going high then dancing down the scale, a la Dizzy.
Kleinhaut wrote all the tunes and arrangements for the set with Watson in mind, and it is masterfully done. As fine a jazz session as Chasing Tales is, A Balance of Light seems to have a sharper focus, start to finish. Kleinhaut's guitar style is full of clean, clear solos with a ringing sting in them, and he seems a tailor-made accompanist for Watson, whose alto tone can be described by all the same adjectives applied to Kleinhaut's guitar work, a sound like a sunny day in late November, a day with a bright shine and a bite of winter in the air.
A Balance of Light delivers straight through. Highlights for this listener: the Latin-flavored "Ferdinand and Isabelle" and a beautifully romantic "Erikita," featuring some of John Lyden's bowed bass work.