Nat Janoff: Looking Through (2000)
I must confess, it was only by chance that I stumbled upon the fact that this recording had been released and had to do some detective work to obtain a review copy. To my knowledge, this review is an allaboutjazz exclusive, and for a release displaying musicianship of this caliber, I do not take that responsibility lightly.
Guitar comfortably remains the world's most played instrument, in almost all idioms, certainly the genre we're all about here. Hence the notion of "separating from the pack" gets tossed around in the context of dialogue regarding "new" guitar artists, more often than, say, emerging jazz violinists. We've already discussed the ways some string-slingers have done this in previous reviews, ranging from particularly strong phrasing skills to a particularly strong internet presence. No one way is "better," although results may differ, in terms of the degree of public, industry or "insider" notoriety that results.
Here's the way Nat Janoff did it: he exercised the incredibly good taste, vision , focus, perseverance and patience to put together a debut recording session with an absolutely killer rhythm section-one that transcends the very term itself. He rehearsed them a bit and went into the studio for one (read 1) day, and let the section and himself cut absolutely, unequivocally , incredibly loose. Then, in terms of the ensemble playing (certainly not the writing- the tunes are Janoff originals), all but relinquished his post as the "leader" of this project.
Yes, it' Nat's record, but a review would be remiss not to devote a paragraph each to the support staff. Scions of jazz legends, an aspect of their musical pedigree both underpublicized by the media and underplayed by them individually, they boast seemingly inflated resumes that can only be slightly excerpted here.
Drum phenom Gene Lake, the old-timer in this crowd at 34, is the son of jazz/funk/harmelodic/World Sax Quartetter Oliver, which partially explains why Gene always plays with an eye (or should I say a stick or a foot) steeped in Ronald Shannon Jackson's prime time decoding polyrhythmic flow. His vitae includes groundbreaking work with Steve Coleman (on the strength on which, alone, Gene could retire the sticks), acid/punk/jazz flailers the Screaming Headless Torsos, alternative Lilith-funk goddess M'Shell NdegeOcello, and world tours with Marcus Miller and David Sanborn.
Electric bassist Matt Garrison, son of acoustic icon Jimmy (former employee of one Mr. Coltrane), has quietly, logarithmically grown into, in this writer's opinion, the most fluid, swinging and versatile player on the scene today. As you can see, while it is generally regarded that, in the interest of maintaining some unspoken modicum of respectability, writers should shy away from superlatives, I unabashedly cross the line drawn in the sand in the case of Mr. Garrison. It would seem the jazz community would agree as well, seeing that past employers, in chronological order, starting from the age of 19 (Matt's just turned 30), include Gary Burton, Bob Moses, Betty Carter, Lyle Mays Steve Coleman , Gil Evans, Joe Zawinul, John Mclaughlin, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Joni Mitchell and Chaka Khan. Suffice to say that the only jazz players and fans I know that hold him in anything but the highest regard have simply not heard enough of him.
As for Nat, rather than recite the details of a bit more entry-level bio, let's engage in a quick bit of reverse logic. Any 29-year old that can hang with this duo, let alone lead the date, has transitively proven himself worthy of attention.
Allow me the liberty to fully describe in some detail, the pace at which the opening title cut evolves and the breadth of musicianship displayed in a compact, intense four minutes. The head kicks off with a little funk-rock riff done in unison by guitar and bass to kick off the vamp and guitar solo a mere 25 seconds into the tune. Nat eases into the loping groove with medium paced lines for about 20 seconds or so and then lets rip-somewhat of refreshing change from the "let's take our time and build a dialogue" school . Listening to the 90 second solo brings to mind another of what I call the "guitar salad" comparisons that critics tend to serve up. Nat provides the ingredients in the liner notes by thanking Mssrs. Stern, Juris and Bollenback. He may have actually studied with one or more of these guys in the past, and the playing, not surprisingly, brings to mind elements of them all; the ever-present bluesy pentatonic and melodic minor preference of Stern, Bollenback's gutbucket bop funk and Juris' precision and speed. Although his choice of archtop jazz guitar (the new Fender/D'Aquisto collaboration) indicates, as does his tone and playing on other later cuts , that he has one foot firmly planted in traditional bop styles, the tone here is clearly out of the sustained, distorted fusion school. He splits this sound with the classic, mellower, rounded, heavy-gauge string bop tone on the remaining cuts.
For the next 90 seconds young master Garrison is given full opportunity to channel the following stunning amalgam of sounds wrenched from his Fodera six. A blues riff is punctuated by a sustained, dissonant, open-sounding chord, immediately followed by his "signature" Hendrix-style, chord-based double stops (think "Axis Bold as Love"), into a passage featuring flamenco style rasguedo technique, after which he still has the musical presence of mind to actually end the blues riff he started. He then goes linear, taking single note, scale-based lines including every bop passing tone up and down the fretboard. He takes a "pause for the cause" to emphasizes the vamp's short turnaround and goes back to soloing in ways that bass players heretofore, quite simply, have not. The standard tools are next employed- some arpeggios and fragments of rock-based phrases- but they feature notes repeated at least twice each at lightning speed, sometimes in unusual sequence or in spread intervals. Coming thusfar, I realize I have covered less than half of the solo, and that writing more in this fashion could actually exceed the space of a transcription in one of those 'Player magazines. I'll wrap it up by saying that while certainly, as a matter of technique, the sounds wrought from the instrument are astounding and imposing, but like his more well known contemporary Victor Wooten, an ardent fan of Garrison, technique always serves the tune while drawing listener interest to solo fragments, and comprises only a small piece of the complex puzzle comprising Matt's singular voice.
"Room with a View" is a variation on the classic jazz waltz/samba featuring a folky bridge and a nice turnaround section that exploits the strength of the players. Garrison leads off the solo section, with an improvisation featuring all the speed, swing, fluidity and execution of "Blue Bossa"-era George Benson; so melodic that it seems composed. Nat's phrasing starts out with that clean bop vibe, progressively getting grittier around the edges. The bass comping underneath the guitar solo is as tasteful as Joe Pass provided under Herb Ellis' precise lines on those classic dates. Somehow, at the 5-minute mark, the molten , white hot swing of Gene Lake erupts from under the proceedings, simultaneously creating and filling an improbable, gaping fissure. I cannot fathom how the trio pushes the chasm back together after what is just a powerhouse display, but it is accomplished in a refined , efficient manner.
To synopsize the remaining tunes, "Horizon" follows "Room," delving even further into that mellow yet intense, CTI-era vibe. "Orange" actually provides the session's bass highlight, featuring a killer, three-way trading of eights, while "Spiral" features Gene's most switched up drumming sections, accompanying the tune's challenging A and B sections, which sound as might be implied by the title. "Three Sunsets" is the biggest mood-setter on the cd, with Nat calling a time out to duet with himself. Think of this one as separate and distinct, the perfect soundtrack to throw on after a busy day to pause for four minutes and reflect upon life's accomplishments achieved over the previous 24 hours. One can only imagine the thoughts rushing through these players' heads if, perchance, they had paused that evening/morning to take such time to reflect upon what had resulted from their musical endeavors on the day the tape rolled for this one. The real scary part is where the discerning music fan can pause for reflection regarding how it comes to pass that such select few recording dates see the light of day and are preserved for future listening. On any given day, these same guys could go into the studio or a club carrying a different set of leadsheets and repeat this level of performance. Here's hoping more sessions like this keep getting put out there.
Final Note: For the time being this little gem is available only at the jazz mine known as Audiophile Imports (www.audiophileimports.com, phone : (908) 996-7311, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org ).
1) Looking Through, 2) Room with a View, 3) Horizon, 4)Home, 5) 3 Sunsets, 6) Orange 7) Spiral
Musician Listing: Nat Janoff-guitar (Fender/D?Aquisto) , Matt Garrison-six string Fodera bass, Gene Lake- Remo drums with Pearl heads and Zildjians
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock