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Mark Kleinhaut's previous trio recording, Chasing Tales (Invisible Music, 2002), employed trumpeter Tiger Okoshi to great effect. The guitarist follows it up with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson on A Balance of Light. Kleinhaut's taut trio serves as a perfect foil to the sleek Watson as the group navigates eight of Kleinhaut's original compositions.
The disc opens with the Spanish-tinged "Ferdinand and Isabelle, providing a perfect vehicle for Watson's Latin inclinations. The style may best be termed upbeat neo-bop. Both Watson and Kleinhaut tear up the solo terrain with vigorous workouts. "Long Look Back is a thoughtful ballad where Watson plays with his typically uncommon sweetness. Jim Lyden's bass and Les Harris's drumming gently guide the principals through the serpentine melody. Kleinhaut is perhaps the finest jazz guitar accompanist performing currently. His soft, round chords support Watson with the light touch of a spider's web.
South of Mason offers jazz counterpoint at its best, with Watson and Kleinhaut bouncing off one another in the introduction before dovetailing into the Ellingtonian head. Kleinhaut plays tasty Hot Club chords behind Watson, while the saxophonist weaves a neo-old-time spell. The picture is topped off with Harris's deft brushwork. "Start It Up showcases Lyden's considerable wares in his introduction to a brisk bebop melody, swinging hard enough to inflict head injury.
Bobby Watson and Mark Kleinhaut are class acts. Their union on this disc produces music of synergistic beauty and intelligence, and I hope they consider recording together again.