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Mike Holober & Balancing Act: Don't Let Go


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Mike Holober & Balancing Act: Don't Let Go
With Don't Let Go, pianist Mike Holober and the octet Balancing Act seemed to have found an ideal way to cross-breed classical motifs and contemporary jazz to produce a pleasurable listening experience. Then he added lyrics. Granted, not all lyrics are superfluous—even those that are either nebulous or indecipherable, as is too often the case here. It's simply that some listeners may be more receptive to an alternative in the form of, say, Marvin Stamm's trumpet, Dick Oatts' or Jason Rigby's saxophones or Mark Patterson's trombone.

Yes, this is Holober's gig, and he should be the one calling the shots. If it's vocals he wants, that's his decision and it must be respected. While Jamile (only one name is shown) does the best she can, she isn't given a lot to work with; Holober's lyrics convey a "message" but it is one that must be unraveled at the receiving end, not always an easy task—and that may be understating the fact. While Holober's intentions are good, and his heart is in the right place, his lyrics are highly personal, to say the least. Jamile is heard on all but the first of Disc 1's seven tracks, most of which are unhurried and even-tempered (an exception is the lively "Kiss the Ground," showcasing Oatts' soprano sax).

On Disc 2, track 5, "Touch the Sky," is reminiscent of "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz. Stamm solos on "Touch the Sky" and "You Never Know." More from his warm and lyrical trumpet would have been most welcome. Disc 2 does bend more heavily toward instrumental, which is a definite plus. The finale, "You're a Long Way from Home," rests in a congenial groove sans vocal, leaning for the most part on a splendid solo by Patterson. As to personnel, no complaint there. Besides those already named, they include bassist Mike McGuirk and ex-Count Basie drummer Dennis Mackrel. The two-disc set was recorded in concert at CCNY's Center for the Arts in October 2019.

The word that springs to mind when appraising Don't Let Go is "hybrid": it's not quite jazz, not quite classical, not quite vocal, not quite instrumental. Presumably, the aim was to offer "something for everyone." The problem is that not everyone may be open to such diversity. On the other hand, some may. It's a matter of personal taste. While the assessment here is a tad less than enthusiastic, that too is a matter of personal taste, and should not be considered the last word or anything close to it. Listen and judge for yourself.

Track Listing

Disc 1—Breathe Deep; Morning Hope; Four-Letter Words; Kiss the Ground; Burnin’ Daylight; A Summer Midnight’s Dream; Necessary. Disc 2—I Wonder; You’re a Long Way from Home; You Never Know; Smile Slow; Letting Go; Touch the Sky; Don’t Let Go.


Marvin Stamm
Dick Oatts
saxophone, alto
Jason Rigby
saxophone, tenor
Mark Patterson

Album information

Title: Don't Let Go | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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