The liner notes to This Song is New
explain how the term "old school" suits guitarist Lorne Lofsky
just fine. Not in its pejorative sense, but rather in the spirit of a master of an old art, now considered to be quaint. It is indeed a fitting description for the compositions and performances that constitute the guitarist's first recording of original material in over 20 years. More a player than a composer, the former Oscar Peterson
collaborator presents a strong set of original tunes, proving himself as good a melody scribe as a guitarist.
Among the most refreshing things one is exposed to throughout the seven-track set is the sound. Lofsky has been using the same Ibanez Roadstar and Telecaster copy for decades, and a Yamaha G50112 amplifier for even longer. The fewer gadgets wired between source and recorded sound, the happier he is: "I try to play voicings so that tunes sound more orchestral. I know there are more modern players who rely on signal processing, but I don't even like reverb. I just plug my guitar into an amp, try to get a decent sound, and then, you know, sail away." His uncompromising approach defines the rules of interplay on this recording, injecting the group sound with a special soberness that emphasizes the performances' inner dynamics.
Bookended by the two sole standards, Miles Davis
' "Seven Steps" and Benny Golson
's "Stable Mates," the quartet places the slickest realizations of the album at its most prominent positions. Recast as a groovy mid-tempo bop counted in five, Davis' title track off of 1963's Seven Steps To Heaven
(Columbia Records) is given a relaxed rhythmic drive that outlines Lofsky's nimble comping skills while turning the spotlight over to tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald
's in part patient, in part buoyant but always tasteful phrasings. Like MacDonald, drummer Barry Romberg
and bassist Kieran Overs
belong to Lofsky's long-time collaborators, having played with him in all sorts of different incarnations. In consequence, their communication is in no need of previous verbal agreement, so that they seamlessly act upon each other's ideas and cues at will.
A maze of allusions and puns, the Lofsky-originals' titles imply the respective concepts and musicians they were created in reference to. "The Time Being" refers to every recording being a "snapshot of where you're at in your musical/personal life," whereas "Live From The Apollo" interweaves a nod to the legendary Harlem concert hall, to Neil Armstrong's first steps during the lunar landing as well as to John Coltrane
's "Giant Steps." As in the latter, Lofsky's composition finds a melody being dragged through rapidly paced harmonic progressions, bringing to mind Coltrane's infamous changes. As soon as the saxophone steps out and leaves the ball in Lofsky's court, the guitarist takes over in tight trio interplay, performing narrow lines in close interaction with drums and bass.
"An Alterior Motif," named in reference to the altered harmony that weaves through the piece, is a patient demonstration in melodic development and features and equally carefully developed guitar solo, that elegantly balances horizontal and vertical lines. MacDonald's tenor subsequently hovers over the gradual rhythmic pulse with expressive playing. An intricate head graces Lennie Tristano
/ Bill Evans
/ Lee Konitz
-dedicated "Evans from Lennie," trading swinging eights with dragging triplets and rambling sextuplets in an otherwise lovely straight-ahead post-bop demonstration.
But like "old school," "straight-ahead" is another one of those terms that's been used in a pejorative way, occasionally referring to something unsurprising or unoriginal, depending on author and situation. Related to Lofsky and This Song is New
it is merely a way of describing the guitarist's grounded approach to writing and interpreting jazz music, which is well-read in tradition while spiked with the virtues of a studied and original voice.
Seven Steps; The Time Being; Live from the Apollo; This Song Is New; An Alterior Motif;
Evans from Lennie; Stable Mates.