The conceptual scope of guitarist Denin Koch
's debut recording could not be much more ambitious. With Re: Manhattan Project
, the young Eastman School of Music graduate contemplates the impact nuclear inventions have had on the world and delivers a powerful ten-composition suite. Each piece is either inspired by an element of the infamous Manhattan Project story or his own experience growing up in Richland, Washington, only a few miles from the first large-scale nuclear reactor, known as the b reactor. On this endeavor, Koch is joined by musicians from his time at Whitworth University as well as the Eastman School of Music. Between fusion-infused workouts hitting a Metheny-esque note (surely Pat Metheny
must be among Koch's main influences), modern jazz soundscapes and a more physical, rock-inspired approach, the guitarist presents tight and thoroughly through-composed charts whose lively constitution is reflected by the band's energetic interplay.
Somewhere between inherent modernism and a notion of dedication to the leading guitarists of the past couple of decades, Denin Koch channels his obvious six-string influences and backs up his case with pristine playing, meticulous composing and a musical vision so accurate and wholesome, it is hard to believe this is only his first try at a full-length studio production.
It would be easy to put off the fluid language connecting the sweet-tooth changes in "II. The Einstein-Szilard Letter" as a Metheny rip-off or brand "V. Trinity" as Kurt Rosenwinkel
wannabee material but, clearly, under a layer of homage and inspiration (Koch's official transcriptions of Rosenwinkel's Star of Jupiter compositions were published on Mel Bay publications), there hides a very personal voice deserving of attention of its own. Koch's playing is full of variety, channeling nimble post-bop slurs in one place, then proving of a pattern and riff-oriented approach in another. The elegantly applied delay on songs like "II. The Einstein..." or "III. J Robert Oppenheimer" does not take away from his thoroughly organic guitar tone but rather coherently embeds it in the band sound. More experimental guitar sounds transform "IV. B Reactor" or "V. Trinity" into stylish cuts, demonstrating Koch's more diverse array of musical influences, such as Radiohead or Shostakovich, both prominently mentioned in his official website biography.
While Koch is a clear protagonist throughout the charts, his sidemen do not just lazily accompany him in the background either. Jonathan Bumpus
' trombone lines add a natural acoustic counterpart in melodic interplay with guitar, while Seiji Yamashita
is given plenty of space to venture beyond the accompanying role on keys and go off at a tangent as in the forceful "V. Trinity." Stephen Morris
' ferocious drumming rarely slows, giving the group a steady energy boost while, unfortunately, at the same time preventing the musicians from unveiling the more subtle nuances of interplay. These partially come through in the charming, yet menacingly titled "VI. Destroyer of Worlds" or "VIII. Flowers for The Shadows"both quiet highlights of the record which let the guitar and trombone's lyrical abilities shine in the spotlight.
When it comes down to it, Denin Koch
is a musician of grand craftsmanship, proving of dynamic sensitivity and stylistic variability with this remarkable debut effort. His subtle touch on acoustic guitar in the closing folk song "X. The Fields, The River, The Sky" further emphasizes these strengths and sees the listener off with a positive impression which is bound to last. Koch certainly has what it takes to make an important impact on the jazz guitar universe.
I. Violent Peace; II. The Einstein-Szilard Letter; III. J Robert Oppenheimer; IV. B Reactor; V. Trinity; VI. Destroyer
Of Worlds; VII. Forty-Five; VIII. Flowers For The Shadows; IX. Rest Assured; X. The Fields, The river, The sky