How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Growing up in Greenboro, North Carolina, the Ganz brothers recorded "First Steps" in 1999, a year after guitarist Keith Ganz joined Steve in New York for a career in music. Now, in 2001, the CD finally is released on Steve's self-produced label, Extravaganza Records. The results are aurally illuminating.
In their early thirties, the Ganz brothers share the compositional responsibilities for the CD, approaching each tune with a definite concept but without predetermined technique. Rather, the music flows organically from the theme, as if limbs from a trunk, and the brothers' self-assured understatement creates tension and listener interest. For example, "Angst" isn't really angst-ridden at all for the listener, even though it is for the musicians who play it as it careens from 3/4 to 4/4 and back again at pleasingly unpredictable numbers of measures. "Angst's" introductory uplift starts the tune lightly and reassuringly before it evolves into bop vocabulary that reveals brother Steve's tenor voice to be reminiscent of Joe Henderson's.
Steve Ganz' "Sonrisa" once again is as much a challenge for the musician/composer as it is for the listener, as he strives to develop a tune that avoids repeating notes. Once he's past the intellectual basis for the tune, though, "Sonrisa" stretches out a tightrope on which the musicians balance harmonic complexity with subdued exploration. The delicacy of the tune means that all of the members of the quartet must remain equally empathetic, George Mitchell's bass rooting the work in a light foundation while drummer Vinson Valega paints backgrounds with brushed swirls and sizzle.
All is not understatement or minor-keyed expressions of private moods, though. "Growing Up" is an entertaining tune with a strong funk bass line and surging accents to move each chorus into the next one. "Debbie In The Dark" turns out to be just what the listener suspects: a pure improvisation over the changes of "Stella By Starlight," so much so that the tune is transformed into yet another one. Keith Ganz had written down his lines of improvisation as he learned the tune and created another composition from it. On the other hand, "A Boot" (word play on Canadian Mitchell's pronunciation of the word "about") proceeds as a 6/4 blues on which Mitchell's elastic push and pull of the beat plays a major part.
Having already performed with some of the better-known names on the New York jazz scene, like Russell Malone and Chris Potter, the Ganz brothers share an interest in creating distinctive and yet unpretentious sounds on their instruments, as well as an interest in harmonic depths of the tunes they play. Not only conceptually, but also in execution, Steve and Keith Ganz create an edge in the explorations of their solos that retains the listener's attention without excessiveness or pretense. The brothers' magnetic fascination with the music is what draws jazz audiences into their field.
Track Listing: First Steps, Angst, The Creeper, Growing Up, Sonrise, Debbie In The Dark, Bossa For Frank, A Boot, My Shining Hour, First Steps (Reprise)
Personnel: Steven Ganz, tenor sax; Keith Ganz, guitar; Vinson Valega, drums; George Mitchell, bass