There were a few strong reactions when Nir Felder was donned "The Next Big Jazz Guitarist" in a 2010 NPR article. The in-demand New York based musician is seemingly unfazed by the headline and continues grinding out a stream of constant gigs and sessions associated with the likes of Greg Osby, Terri Lyne Carrington, and more recently, drummer Rudy Royston's debut 303 (Greenleaf Music, 2014). In spite of frenzied scheduling Felder has cultivated his music in the long overdue debut, Golden Age, on the historic and newly resurrected OKeh Records.
Felder's idiosyncratic and open style has garnered the ears and respect of musicians and listeners alike with attributes that include a unique tone and phrasing and the ability to intuitively adapt in idioms ranging from straight-ahead post-bop with David Weiss's Point of Departure to exotic South Asian modes in drummer Sunny Jain's 2010's Taboo (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records).
Felder could have come out with a blistering guitar-centric set but for the most part Golden Age exudes a more pensive vibe. It's a reflection of interests not only rooted in jazz but also his formative exposure to rock and pop music culminating with engaging but thought-provoking program delivered with gifted band members that include pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and combustible drumming from Nate Smith.
The compositions are fueled by Felder's contemplations on the turbulent social and economic changes of the past few years. Sampled speeches from civil rights and political leaders sprinkle "Lights" and "Sketch 2" where Smith's propulsive drumming is featured against the backdrop of a repeating theme. The sense of spacious isolation found in the "Code" and rural-appealing flavor in "Bandit II" provide not only infectious hooks but also spotlights Parks' melodious piano and Felder on acoustic guitar.
There are a few upbeat pieces such as "Slower Machinery" where Penman and Smith tightly navigate the pocket as Felder lays down groovy chords and complex harmonies with Parks. But if you want to get a sense for the warranted attention Felder's been getting then the smoldering "Ernest / Protector" provides total proof which showcases the guitarist's mind-boggling soloing decorated with staccato accents, creative exploration, and enough twists and spirals to cause roller coaster- induced nausea.
Yet Golden Age is not just about Felder's skill as a jazz guitarist but reveals an artist and emerging leader whose varied interests seek to express a singular voice.
Lights; Bandits; Ernest / Protector; Sketch 2; Code; Memorial; Lover;
Bandits II; Slower Machinery; Before the Tsars.
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