Ryan Blotnick: Music Needs You (2008)
As Jack Kerouac's call for a "rucksack revolution" enticed America's youth to discover themselves and the world through rallies and road trips, musicians, for their part, have found taking the road at the same time an uprooting obligation and liberating transience. After all, as the proverb goes, travels do broaden the mind.
A young globe-trotter in his own right at twenty-four, guitarist/composer Ryan Blotnick's enviable travelogue has prompted him to precociously abandon his studies at New Jersey's William Paterson's University to join horn-powered, touring rock band Rustic Overtones and attend Copenhagen's Rytmisk Musikkonservatorium. Born in Alfred, Maine, Blotnick currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and regularly journeys in Spain as part of European and American ensembles as well as bi-continental units, with Music Needs You recorded in Barcelona during one such jaunt. Meet the new, upcoming generation of contemporary jazz's messengers.
Pianist Albert Sanz and drummer Joe Smith, both based in the Catalonian capital, as well as bassist Perry Wortman and alto saxophonist Pete Robbins, join Blotnick on his first solo effort.
The music is freshly contemporary. It amalgamates clear melodic statements with modern harmonic progressions and offers plenty of headway for improvised adventure. But, as a healthy, organic mix of propulsive looseness and textural rhythmic clouding usually preoccupies like-minded accompanying corps, one finds this rhythm section somewhat uninspiring, especially on selections where those two characteristics are prescribed. On those tracks, Smith's linear playing, in particular, stands out.
On "Thinning Air," his playing disrupts the overall dynamic flow. As the song calls for a Jon Christensen, Paul Motian-like lithe sensitivity, one is served a stream-of-consciousness bunch of oddly put together rhythmic nothingness. This is without mentioning his throw-off swing ride cymbal patterns on the title track's introduction and during Sanz's solo. That said, the tune, as well as the conversely swingier "You Can Talk During This," are arguably the two highlights of the program. Only on the latter does Smith truly sound at home.
Favoring a hollow-bodied tone, the leader's economical phrasing comes out strong and clear. Rooted in the Jim Hall/John Abercrombie lineage, not only is the influence of his most notable contemporaries evident, but a maturing musical personality.
Robbins is also a gripping instrumentalist. An intellectual, mild-mannered blower whose style and sound is reminiscent of the great Lee Konitz in its relaxed melodicism, Robbins could certainly gain from wider exposure in pairing with an international artist. But, together, Blotnick and Robbins certainly have a thing going. Who knows, maybe the scene is ready for the next big-hitting sax/guitar team to pursue the Sonny Rollins/Jim Hall, Joe Lovano/John Scofield and Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny winning tradition.
Track Listing: Winter Melt; Thinning Air; Music Needs You; The Quiet Space Left Behind; Barceloneta; Liberty; You Can Talk During This; Wrong Turns; Tired House.
Personnel: Ryan Blotnick: guitar; Joe Smith: drums; Albert Sanz: piano; Perry Wortman: bass; Pete Robbins: alto saxophone.