Six years after the release of his solo debut, Golden Age
(Okeh, 2014), Nir Felder's follow-up II
brings into sharper focus some of the guitarist's more compelling dichotomies as a player.
His instrument of choice is the usually more crystalline-sounding Stratocaster but Felder somehow elicits a fatter-than-a-big-ol'-jazz-box tone from it. His style as a soloist has way more in common with Jim Hall
than Jimi Hendrix
but he more often favors flailing big ringing open-stringed or power chords than the harmonically-dense jazz variety. He often flirts with warm breakup and power in his sound yet it always feels "clean." His sense of time is refined enough to surpass merely locking in, allowing himmuch to the possible befuddlement of a generation reared on pro-tools aligned musica freely human time-feel that still comes off as completely attuned. Add to it all that, despite his relative newcomer status, he's also one of the most identifiable and unencumbered improvisers around today and it ends up being quite a list.
Why all this prologue on his personal sound, style and approach? Because in Felder's case, they've melded into much more than the sum of those parts. They've become what is the goal of all serious players (and one achieved by so few)the true voice, his voice. It's one so strong, authentic and identifiable that it can't help but dominate any impression left by his workor any of his work with others for that matter. That's certainly the enviable, uncommon thing that got Felder so heavily touted as "the next big thing" by critics a decade ago.
If nothing else, II
certainly reaffirms all that and just hearing more of that voice is arguably worth the price of admission. Nevertheless, it's worthwhile noting the similarities and differences between this album and his debut to get a sense of Felder's artistic direction and progress in the interim.
As with Golden Age
continues with Felder's penchant for adding various overdubbed background adornments and reinforcements onto the base performances. These are once more done in a way that doesn't detract from the music or morph it into something non- reproducible. One tangible difference on II
is that the core unit is reduced from Golden Age
's quartet to a trio with drummer Jimmy Macbride
and returning bassist Matt Penman
. The resulting increased acrobatic flexibility is especially put to task in several metrically-modulating Felder compositions, including the dizzying "Interregnum," the fast-break laden "Big Heat."
Interesting but not overzealous as a writer, Felder seems to know he doesn't necessarily need overblown compositional designs to express his musicality effectively. That's not to say there isn't some pretty sophisticated music here, (see the aforementioned "Interregnum"), but the magic in, say, the laid back intimacy of "Coronation" giving way to eventual ecstatic jubilation is purely an effect of interpretation, not some grand architecture. Indeed, one of the album's most memorable pieces, "Fire in August," is essentially a two-chord vamp that transcends its own modest description completely by way of Felder's sheer creativity and spark. And even for all of Felder's subtle yet frequent-enough sonic embellishments, enhancements, cinematic leanings (and yes complexities), the music throughout II
never really loses its ability to revel in a certain directness that feels
like simplicity. A notion that is perhaps best characterized by the album closer, "War Theory."
All that said, there are no huge stylistic quantum leaps or directional detours on II
to distance it exceedingly far from its predecessor but in that, it absolutely doesn't feel at all disappointing either. It feels like Felder found the right star to steer by out of the dockone that offers great ways to avail his talents. Continuing on that course is, as they say, a no-brainer.
In terms of Felder's growth as a player, it definitely shows here but, it feels like more of a kind of redwood-like slower growtha bit more than incremental but definitely the organic and lasting kind. It's a pleasure hearing him add even just a few sturdy rings at a time to a tree that already cast an impressive shadow.
In all these ways, II
shows Felder certainly making good on the "next big thing" moniker, but proving he was less of the "flash- in-the-pan" prodigy type and more the "old-soul-in-a-younger-body" varietysurely the more desirable of the two.
The Longest Star; Interregnum; Fire In August; Coronation; Big Heat; Big Swim; War Theory.
Nir Felder: guitars, mandolin, banjo, electric sitar, key bass, Fender Rhodes, Theremin,
synthesizers, MPC; Matt Penman: acoustic bass; Jimmy Macbride: drums; Jeff Babko: Piano on
"The Longest Star;" Doug Yowell: additional percussion on "Big Heat."