Guitarist Steve Herberman is someone to watch --- or listen to, rather. His guitar riffs have a smooth, comforting feel that surpasses the increasing monotony of smooth-jazz radio outlets. In Thought Lines , an often very fine album, Herberman’s guitar conjures up a hearty helping of jazz standards. Everyone from Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn and The Duke himself are agreeably reincarnated.
From a solid, smooth-meets-bounce opener, “I Wish I Knew” where Herberman’s guitar meshes nicely with Bruce Swaim’s tenor sax, to a near note-for-note remaking of Monk’s “Criss Cross,” Herberman and his backup trio (Swain’s sax, Victor Dvoskin’s bass, Dominic Smith’s drums) are able to recreate classic tunes but keep them lively, too. It’s the rare album that’s respectful but not too so, allowing for some room to belt out on their own and return to the material when appropriate. At times, the other players are so prominently featured it’s impossible to consider them as the jazz help: they, too, show their skill, and on such tracks as a remaking of Stayhorn and Ellington’s “Isfahan,” indeed Swain’s sax is the star.
Credit Herberman for knowing when to be the key player but also when to step back and let his cats step forward; they create a holistic balance that’s welcome indeed. Oddly, one of the most innovative numbers is yet another version of what is oft-called the most famous romantic film ballad of our time, David Raksin’s “Laura” (from the magnificent 1944 Otto Preminger noir). Made famous later by Charlie Parker, the piece almost always calls for a sax or a trumpet to tell its bittersweet tale, but Herberman brings his guitar and lends it a new warmth.
Not all of the album measures up so strongly, part of the problem when working from established classics: respect can be a dangerous thing when artistic innovation is considered. You want, as a listener, for the album to go even further, to reach out in more directions, as Herberman does in his own original, “Scurryin’.” Yet the album remains, as its lead player, worth the investment.
Personnel: Steve Herberman -- guitar
Bruce Swaim -- tenor sax
Victor Dvoskin -- bass
Dominic Smith -- drums