Will Sellenraad – Balance (2009)

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by Pico

Will Sellenraad is a member of a newer generation of jazz musicians who have that ability to fold in elements of rock, soul and folk into jazz without diluting the jazz component at all. His guitar playing style has a full, rounded tone that can best be described as unaffected, reserved passion. It shows the influence of two of the guitar giants he’s studied under, John Abercrombie and Jim Hall.

If that wasn’t enough, Sellenraad is also one heck of a composer.

For his third album Balance, released today, this talented guitarist brought his working band into the studio: Abraham Burton on saxophone, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on acoustic bass and the acclaimed legend Victor Lewis on drums.

There isn’t a single weak track among the nine cuts on Balance, seven of which are by the leader. The common thing that makes these songs all work is that they’re harmonically interesting enough to make them memorable, but not so complex that the boys can’t stretch out and strut their stuff a little bit. It’s the right…ahem…balance between all out jamming and melodic quality.

The title cut that kicks off this record demonstrates that point perfectly. “Balance” has a memorable vaguely blues feel to it, but Burton and then Sellenraad are able to exploit Kitagawa’s solid bass walk to contribute some slow burning, swinging solos. “Nye” is a gentle bossa nova that has an interesting chord progression that’s just a tad out of the ordinary. On this tune, Kitagawa contributes a particularly winsome, expressive bass solo.

“Double Down” is the one track where there’s a pronounced lean toward jamming, but it’s a delight to hear these guys show off their chops. Sellenraad and Burton pair up for some twisting note sequences on the head before everyone takes their turn unleashing some hot solos.

All great composers have a certain rule they live by when writing memorable songs; Sellenraad explains his own approach this way: “I always try to write as simply as possible, and that’s always the challenge, to keep it simple.” True to his axiom, his best composition on Balance is the simplest, the (mainly) two-chord eulogy for Elvin Jones, “Prayer.”

The bandmembers contributed a couple of songs, too. Lewis wrote “It’s Been A Long Time” many years ago but was waiting for the right time to put it into performance. He finally found his opportunity for blues-based bop song with Sellenraad’s band; Kitagawa’s bass shines brightly on this cut. Speaking of Kitagawa, he contributed “Tell Me Why,” a beautifully melancholy ballad upon which Sellenraad spins out some cottony, gently sweeping lines.

The combination of a guitarist who brings an assured, unpretentious approach to guitar, surrounds himself with some great players and writes refreshing, deceptively simple-but-stimulating compositions brings to mind a young Pat Metheny of thirty years ago. It remains to be seen if Balance is but a stepping stone to a career full of such influential and groundbreaking music such as Metheny’s, but it hardly matters, as Balance is a pleasurable enough listen without the need for any context.

Balance comes to us courtesy of Beeswax Records, an outfit specializing in jazz, brass and blues for twelve years.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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