Inside a decade, English musician Janek Gwizdala has positioned himself as one of the top electric bassists in New York, boasting a technique and a melodic ear that places him alongside bassists Gary Willis
and Matthew Garrison
. His acclaimed debut, Mystery to Me
(Self Produced, 2005) featured rising stars such as saxophonist Mark Turner
, guitarist Tim Miller
, singer Gretchen Parlato
, drummer Jojo Mayer
, harmonica player Gregoire Maret
and trombonist/bass trumpeter Elliot Mason
. Here was an exciting young talent who chose his company well. Gwizdala's fifth album, Theatre by the Sea
is another seductive effort, where penmanship and simple, alluring melodies are to the fore.
Given his extraordinary chops, Gwizdala's reluctance to showboat may disappoint those expecting jaw-dropping solos. With deft contrapuntal lines, harmonic depth and rhythmic versatility, Gwizdala is content to quietly stir the pot. Melodic flow is central to Gwizdala, who has penned tunes that are memorably hummable. When he does stretch out on the opener "Erdnase," his guitar-like lines sing with a lyricism evocative of guitarist Pat Metheny
. On this enchanting track, singer Lizzy Loeb
's wordless vocals intertwine with Gwizalda's bass in a hypnotic circular melody. Pianist Alan Pasqua
's quasi baroque motif and drummer Peter Erskine
's brushes lend compelling support.
Mediterranean colors of contrasting hues infuse "España" and "Portugal." On the former, Gwizdala's gentle handclaps accompany Sergio Vallin's sweetly melancholic nylon string guitar. Bob Franceschini
's soprano lends more urgency as the music gradually swells. The breezy latter tune features Loeb on wordless vocals, again combing beautifully with Gwizdala on another Metheny-esque melody. Guitarist Mike Stern
, who brought his bebop-blues fire to the spectacular title track of the bassist's The Space in Between
(Self Produced, 2010), reveals a more sensitive side here with a delightfully delicate solo. Similarly, on the pretty ballad "Once I Knew," Stern plays with hushed emotion.
The gentle funk groove of "Randroid" features trumpeter Randy Brecker
. The veteran, along with bass trumpeter Mason, carves out simple unison lines before launching into a short but telling solo. Mason shines on trombone in an extended solo on "Fooling Houdini," another pleasingly melodic tune; bass and drums mark a metronomic rhythm as Pasqua, in turn, makes a brief but elegant contribution. The pianist holds center stage on the smooth grooving title track and the equally easy-on-the-ears "The Goshman." The latter in particular has a radio-friendly feel, with Franceschini and guitarist Nir Felder
in laid back mode.
Felder is a rising star on the New York scene. On "The Goshman" and the anthemic "Chicago Opener" he shows the tasteful chops that have brought him gigs with drummers Terri Lyne Carrington
, Keith Carlock
and Eric Harland
, bassist James Genus
and saxophonist Greg Osby
. That all
the musicians on Theatre by the Sea
enjoy so much space to maneuver speaks volumes for Gwizdala's maturity as a leader. The bassist's own presence is ever-felt, but his playing is entirely at the service of the song, and not the other way around. The fireworks he saves for the live stage.
The lack of pretension on Gwizalda's most relaxed and accessible recording to date is in itself thoroughly refreshing. There's nothing overly complex to negotiate here; just simple, wonderful tunes, classily executed.
Erdnase; España; Portugal; Randroid; Once I Knew; Fooling Houdini; Theatre by the Sea; The Goshman; Chicago Opener.
Janek Gwizdala: bass, keyboards, hand claps, programming; Peter Erskine: drums, percussion; Alan Pasqua: piano; Mike Stern: guitar (3, 5); Randy Brecker: trumpet (4); Elliot Mason: bass trumpet & trombone (2, 4, 6, 8-9); Bob Franceschini: tenor & soprano saxophone (2, 4-5, 7-9); Lizzy Loeb: vocals (1-3); Sergio Vallin: nylon string guitar: (7); Nir Felder: guitar (3, 6-9).