Two objective characteristics set Unearth apart from guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg's four previous releases. First, it's a quintet outing, as opposed to the trios that created his eponymous 1996 debut, Trioing (2000), Nine Stories Wide (2004) and New for Now (2005). Second, it's original material from start to finish, which yields a strangely contradictory effect. Kreisberg the musician subsumes himself into a larger group, leaving himself less exposed as a performer than he would be in a trio, but Kreisberg the composer is more prominent here than ever before.
"Until the Sun Submits," one of the most emotive original ballads I have heard in a long time, is an exquisitely beautiful track in the poetic, sensual Brazilian mold. Kreisberg employs some jagged, jarring distortion on occasion, but it doesn't shake the earnest fragility of the song; instead, it works to emphasize the moments where love and all its attendant emotions are so strong that they hurt.
The far more energetic opener, "Minor Leaps," a tune with a doubly clever title, not only makes use of minor progressions, it uses Coltrane's "Giant Steps" as a blueprint. But where "progression" might connote something slow and gradual, Kreisberg and trumpeter Scott Wendholt jointly rocket through the sequence, with remarkable precision. Both of these early tracks on the disc, though worlds apart in mood and execution, reveal the quintet's collective vibe. Whether supporting or soloing, Aaron Goldberg routinely delivers the most perspicacious choices of notes and chords from his Fender Rhodes. Drummer Anthony Pincotti and bassist Matt Penman are far more than timekeepers, coloring and embellishing whole passages.
"New for Now" revisits the title track of Kreisberg's earlier organ trio album, this time with a trumpeter and bassist along for a swift, ever-shifting ride. Wenderholt pushes himself hard during his solo, though he infrequently sacrifices control to speed, bravado and actionsomething like the difference between five perfectly executed backflips in the middle of a field and twelve shaky ones near the edge of a cliff. Later the tripped-out, bluesy Scofield homage "Hobroken" allows Wendholt to regain his steady footing and shine (along with the rest of the quintet) before moving on to "Peru," another quintet reinterpretation of a track from New for Now.
Unearth is an enhanced CD with interactive content that can be accessed on your computer. That content, however, is little more than a self-contained microsite, and far less interactive and informative than Kreisberg's homepage proper on the web. There are no samples from earlier discs, no bonus audio tracks or videos, just a Q&A padded out by a reprint of the liner notes and thumbnail PR photos. While it's interesting to read that Kreisberg's interest in guitar came about through Eddie Van Halen's solo on "Eruption" (a song that launched a thousand guitarists), the data space on the disc could have been better used.
Personnel: Jonathan Kreisberg: guitars; Scott Wendholt: trumpet; Aaron Goldberg: piano, Fender Rhodes;
Matt Penman: bass; Anthony Pincotti: drums.