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Griffith Hiltz Trio: This Is What You Get...

Dan Bilawsky By

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This band may be a trio in body, but it's so much more in spirit and sound. Guitarist Nathan Hiltz, multi-reedist Johnny Griffith and drummer Sly Juhas make up a single entity that expands and contracts at will, occasionally coming off as a legitimate sounding quintet or breaking away in various duo contexts; they completely obfuscate the very idea of the trio, and that's a wonderful thing.

Hiltz is the secret weapon, contributing to the size identity crisis by tearing it up with guitar in hand, covering bass parts with foot pedals, and adding some banjo-esque banter when appropriate ("Strawman"). He covers more ground than anybody else in the group and he sounds damn good doing it; he can shred, slice-and-dice, or simply seduce. Griffith could technically be considered the front man here, riding high over his rhythmically rooted band mates, but nobody really outshines anybody else.

The musical topics addressed on This Is What You Get... are many and varied. "The Kuleshascope," for example, admittedly addresses the work of Anton Webern, Black Sabbath, and more, as the band works with a twelve tone row and makes cuts between weighty statements and nimble swing. "For Otis" finds the trio tapping into a soul outlet while tipping their collective cap to Otis Redding, "Steppin' Out" sits squarely in the Ornette Coleman camp, and the title track, driven by a simple and catchy bass line and backbeat, owes a debt of gratitude to the Seattle grunge movement.

While different influences pop up throughout the program, the music itself moves beyond them. Even the lone cover—a celestial re-imagining of "The Rainbow Connection"—stands apart from its origins. People intimately familiar with the tune may not even recognize it, as Griffith's bass clarinet and Hiltz's guitar transform the piece into something less shaped but equally beautiful.

The Griffith Hiltz Trio tapped producer/multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson to produce its debut—Now And Then (Self Released, 2009)—but the band went in a different direction when it came time for this one: they enlisted the services of Hawksley Workman, a singer-songwriter-producer who's manned the helm in the studio for acts like Tegan and Sara, Serena Ryder, and Great Big Sea. Workman's production credits don't really tie him to the jazz world, so it initially seems odd that he's on board for this one, but it quickly becomes apparent that his work outside of jazz made him the perfect producer for this album; this band wanted to be pushed out of its comfort zone and Workman did the pushing. The end result is a joy to hear, so kudos to all of these risktakers.

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