Joshua Breakstone may well be the torch bearer for traditional jazz guitar that few have heard. While he has released some fourteen recordings in the past twenty years for a number of labels, his work on other people's recordings is sparse indeed. And that’s unfortunate because one of the ways that an artist gains exposure is through collaboration. Why Breakstone is so underutilized is a mystery, because he is a lyrical and understated player who comes from the same places, as Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery and, in particular, Grant Green. His new release, A Jamais , is as good a sampling of what he is about as one is apt to find.
Deeply melodic and economical to the extreme, Breakstone rarely plays two notes when one will do, usually allowing his carefully chosen notes breathe luxuriously. His tone is so warm that it is akin to being wrapped in a comfortable blanket. And he has an innate sense of swing that, while occasionally firing up, is more apt to be expressed in a relaxed manner. On this record, which features largely his own compositions, Breakstone aims for cool jazz territory, with a penchant for melodious phrases that retain the essence of the material while, at the same time, expanding on them and carefully exploring where they might go.
The term "considered" can often be detrimental when applied to music and, in particular, improvisation, but in the case of Breakstone it isn’t. Every phrase, every chord seems carefully deliberate; Breakstone is clearly not going for a stream-of-consciousness approach; but there remains a deep emotional impact. While he clearly chooses his notes meticulously, he never over-intellectualizes.
Supported by bassist Louis Petrucciani and drummer Joel Allouche, the session manages to be light without being lightweight. The trio swings hard on the title track yet remain always at ease. “B’s Way,” with its relaxed bop theme, demonstrates just how good the trio’s sense of time is, utilizing space liberally. “Taken for Granted,” an up-tempo blues with a theme built around repeated patterns, has Breakstone alternating between rapid-fire lines and phrases where notes seem to hang interminably, until he breaks the tension and picks up the pace again.
The two solo pieces—“Chanson des Cevennes” and Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations”—may, however, be the most revealing pieces of the set. Lush and sensuous, with an expansive tone, Breakstone manages to say so much with so little.
A Jamais may not break new ground, but in its honesty, lack of ego, and purity of approach it is an album with much to recommend. Breakstone is a guitarist who deserves to reach a broader audience; but unless he gets out and mixes it up a bit he will, unfortunately, remain one of New York’s well-kept secrets.
Visit Joshua Breakstone and Capri Records on the web.
Personnel: Joshua Breakstone (guitar), Louis Petrucciani (bass), Joel Allouche (drums)