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Janek Gwizdala: Live at the 55 Bar 2007

Phil DiPietro By

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Janek Gwizdala is a highly skilled multi-instrumentalist (he's toured as a rock drummer and guitarist) from London that now makes his home in New York City. There, his proving ground as a world-class electric jazz bassist has been the diminutive but daunting stage of the 55 Bar, where jazz cognoscenti and off-duty virtuosi alike come and check out those brave enough to pick up its gauntlet.



So to follow up his superlative 2005 debut, Mystery to Me-Live in New York, he commissioned the place, brought two microphones and released one killer set. He also invited some friends along, like fellow brits Brad and Elliott Mason,the Mason Brothers, who play trumpet and trombone respectively and whose most famous employers include Jon Mayer and Wynton Marsalis. Oliver Rockberger, a formidable singer-songwriter and fellow London transplant, demonstrates his talents on Rhodes, while the versatile New York drummer Tobias Ralph provides crushing veteran support on drum kit. The twistedly talented altoist Justin Vasquez stage-coached it from Austin, joining Boston's incredible Tim Miller on guitar, who was recently name-checked by Sir Alan Holdsworth in Guitar Player Magazine.



Little rehearsal time necessitated crafting a set of tunes with memorably melodic heads, having at it during some astute vamp sections and offering up a ballad. Mission accomplished—in spades—as these guys tear the roof off of a place that has it torn off more routinely than any jazz bar in the world.



Rockberger interjects just the right statements throughout, smoking his only gospel-tinged solo turn on "That Stern Look," dropping in some sophisticatedly obtuse voicings. His motific development is contagiously followed by Miller's, who engenders his instrument to sing a spontaneous song created from a repeatedly varied intervallically melodic nugget during the middle of his solo. From there, he conjures a freakish succession of interlacing lines that explode off the fretboard. In general, Miller takes advantage of the sonics of live recordings, and his virtuosic abilities temporarily seize the bar's guitar-emblazoned mantle.



You'll be hearing much more about Vasquez too. On "Aphelion," he takes that Sanbornesque wail to the next level, but with a more angular harmonic sense. Elliott Mason follows, showing he's in the handful of the world's greatest trombonists, every bit as fluent as any horn man at Lincoln Center. His solos on both versions of "Mana," especially the liquid vortexes near their ends, will have you shaking your head in disbelief.



Gwizdala prioritizes the band throughout, but allows himself a showcase on the ballad "Alibea," wherein his meteoric, achingly lyrical solo literally leaks his ability to play whatever he can sing. He should consider fully miking it next time—beautifully done.



Gwizdala's skills and energies emanate from this recording. His guerrilla style of just putting it out there, combined with his ability to vigorously back it up, is well-suited to today's marginal marketplace. A band this full of bold new talent should have nurturing benefactors allowing it to flourish—until then this bold move will do just fine.


Track Listing: Intro; Culture; Mana Story; Mana; Alibea; That Stern Look; Aphelion; Mana (bonus version).

Personnel: Janek Gwizdala: bass; Tobias Ralph: drums; Justin Vasquez: alto saxophone; Tim Miller-guitar; Oliver Rockberger-rhodes, keyboards; Elliot Mason: trombone, bass trumpet; Brad Mason: trumpet.

Title: Live at the 55 Bar 2007 | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Janekbass.com


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