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Jonathan Kreisberg: Unearth

John Kelman By

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Some artists evolve gradually over a long period of time, while others seem to advance in great leaps and bounds. Over the past decade, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg has gone from progressive rocker to fusion shredder to modernistic mainstreamer. In the last couple of years he's recorded two discs for Criss Cross—2004's Nine Stories Wide, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart; and a 2005 organ trio date, New for Now, with organist Gary Versace and drummer Mark Ferber. While both discs featured a handful of his original compositions, they revolved around a standards repertoire.

Given that Kreisberg was mentioned in Guitar Player for his writing when he was only sixteen, the focus on his Criss Cross discs is something of a surprise. But this September, 2003 session of all original compositions, just now being released by Mel Bay Records, provides much better insight into where his interests truly lie. While Unearth is unequivocally a mainstream record, it's one in the most contemporary sense, sharing the same space as recent albums by Kurt Rosenwinkel and Adam Rogers.

The comparison to Rosenwinkel isn't that far a stretch, either. While Kreisberg hasn't evolved a specific signature tone the way Rosenwinkel has, and there are as many differences as similarities, he has created an improvisational voice based on a more modern harmonic approach. "Hobroken may be a sixteen-bar blues, but its imaginative harmonical alterations obscure its more conventional form.

For Unearth Kreisberg has put together a crack band of thirty to forty-something players. Trumpeter Scott Wendholt has been consistently busy since emerging on the scene in the early 1990s with artists including Bob Mintzer, George Gruntz, and Tim Ries. A lyrical player, he possesses broad range and impressive technique. He's just as capable of navigating the change-heavy opener, "Minor Leap, as he is the more up-tempo syncopations of "New for Now. Pianist Aaron Goldberg, heard here mostly on Fender Rhodes, is probably best known for his work on Joshua Redman's Beyond and Passage of Time. An equally impressive soloist, he actually shines most as an accompanist, with a keenly intuitive ear and deep sense of space.

Bassist Matt Penman and drummer Anthony Pinciotti are younger players, but they manage the same kind of flexible support as Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard (with Kurt Rosenwinkel) or Scott Colley and Clarence Penn (with Adam Rogers).

Kreisberg's tone ranges from warm and clean to dark and slightly overdriven, bearing some resemblance to Rosenwinkel's, but without the heavy use of delay. He's similarly disposed to idiosyncratic arpeggiated runs and challenging intervallic leaps during his solos, but there's a hint of blue in his playing that harkens back to his early development, providing significant differentiation.

In some ways Unearth—despite Kreisberg's two recent Criss Cross recordings—marks his true debut as a modern mainstreamer. Certainly it announces his arrival as a writer with greater emphasis, and it's the first to truly position him alongside other young contemporary players as a guitarist well worth watching.

Track Listing: Minor Leaps; Until the Sun Submits; New for Now; Pacific; Microcosm for Two; Hobroken; Peru; Unearth.

Personnel: Jonathan Kreisberg: guitars; Scott Wendholt: trumpet; Aaron Goldberg: piano, fender rhodes; Matt Penman: bass; Anthony Pinciotti: drums.

Title: Unearth | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Mel Bay Records

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