Quickies: Jake Hertzog, Rudder, Gene Ess, Jeff Albert Quartet

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This installment of Quickies is aimed at introducing to you, Dear Reader, some amazing jazz musicians who may not have shown up on your radar screen yet:

Jake Hertzog Chromatosphere

Here’s a guitarist who is a 2007 graduate of Berklee, won the Montreaux Jazz Guitar Competition the prior year, came back to the festival the following year and performed with his band there (see video below), performs with the Naked Brothers Band, has worked with Joe Lovano, Terri Lyne Carrington and Dave Samuels, and just this month, releases a new album with luminaries Harvie S (bass), Victor Jones (drums) and Michael Wolff (piano).

Jake Hertzog is his name, and he’s done all of these things by twenty-two years of age. But only by listening to that new record, Chromatosphere, can you really understand how far his experiences and sheer talent has already taken him. The record begins with the heady, discerning rock fusion of “California Hills” and goes all the way to the appealing, waltzing ballad of “Lullaby For A Dreamer” and my personal favorite, the Thelonius Monk-infused rocker, “Bonding.”

It’s not just his harmonically advanced originals that are a draw, though. There’s also some really imaginative treatments of jazz standards like the hard bopping “Almost Like Being In Love,” the solo guitar in “Falling In Love With Love” and “In Your Own Sweet Way,” which contains some engaging axe work.

Chromatosphere reveals an accomplished guitarist capable of so many styles in both in terms of acumen and composing; the sky is the limit for Hertzog. Hop on, his career could prove to be a very interesting ride.

Rudder Matorning

Rudder is a quartet of super-sessionists who delve into the delicious grooves favored by jam band fans and jazzheads alike. This is a real potent line-up: Chris Cheek on saxes (Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Bill Frisell), Henry Hey on keyboards (Roger Waters, Jeff Watts), Tim Lefevbre on bass (Chris Botti, Patti Austin, Uri Caine, Wayne Krantz) and Keith Carlock (Sting, James Taylor, Steely Dan).

Their second CD Matorning is a what Hey says “is considerably more representative of how we sound live,” and it’s very easy to believe that: this is an edgy but frill-free affair. Hard-driving beats, a funkified electrified sax, rock-steady bass and soulfully textured keyboards. Is it jazz? Is it funk? Is it rock?

Yes. And no.

This record is non-stop energy from beginning to end, from the hard rocking thump of “3H Club,” to the riveting pulse of “One Note Mosh,” to the Big Easy feel of “Jackass Surcharge.” These guys are simply too good to resort to generic sounding two chord wankfests, but their jams are never too filling to make you put your thinking ears on.

Matorning just came out on April 6 on Nineteen-Eight Records.

Gene Ess Modes Of Limited Transcendence

There’s a fair amount in common between this guitarist and the other one being lauded in this piece. Like Jake Hertzog, Gene Ess is a Berklee grad and has played with a long list of jazz heavies. In recent years, he’s worked closely with John Coltrane’s last drummer, the great Rashied Ali. And like Hertzog, Ess’s latest record features Harvie S on bass.

Ess’s guitar has a stately, gentle swing with just a little sting to it, not unlike the great European plectrist Philip Catherine. He’s also been compared to John Abercrombie and John Scofield, but his lighter touch puts him in a space of his own.

For Modes Of Limited Transcendence, however, it’s all about team play and the delicate, carefully constructed compositions of Ess. This is where his extensive study of and exposure to classical music serves him so well. These aren’t the epic, multi-part suites one might expect from a classically trained musician, but there’s drama, somberness and humor found in every tune, not to mention subtleties you pick up only from close and repeated

That’s not to say there aren’t some damned fine individual performances on this record. Harvie S performs his usual highly lyrically melodious himself on “Art Of Nothingness.” Ess himself allows a touch of rock to creep into his own marvelous solo on “Discovery In Three.” Tigran Hamasyan’s pastel Rhodes solo on “Trance Chant” is another highlight.

Gene Ess proves that even today, you can find advanced jazz that’s well-crafted, carefully composed, and still retain a great deal of spirituality. Those are all attributes you’ll find on Modes Of Limited Transcendence.

Modes Of Limited Transcendence is a 2008 release, made available by SIMP Records. Visit Gene’s website here.

Purchase: Gene Ess – Modes Of Limited Transcendence

Jeff Albert Quartet Similar In The Opposite Way

New Orleans-based trombonist Jeff Albert and his quintet presents what Albert calls the “New Orleans/Chicago continuum” on their latest offering Similar In The Opposite Way. At first blush, that might seem to suggest it’s a mixture of the original jazz of Dixieland to the Midwestern-flavored jazz of the 1920s. But what he really means is the mixture of the funky groove of New Orleans with the mind expanding freedom of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or more explicitly, the Vandermark 5.

This means that you’ve got tonality mixed in with atonality, but the songs will always either swing or groove. The quartet includes Albert, Dave Capello (drums), Ray Moore (alto sax) and Tommy Sciple (bass). The pianoless quartet is quite agile and notes tend not to be wasted. Albert and Moore often playfully joust with the rhythm section (like they do on “I Was Just Looking For My Pants”), if they’re not syncing up precisely with them.

The centerpiece track could very well by “Bag Full Of Poboys,” which is a lively piece where Albert’s trombone gets real sassy and Cappello plays with abandon. “Folk Song” sports a more conventional melody in 3/4 time, but is just as loose as the more out-there tracks. “9th Ward Trotsky” is just one of many tunes built around the frisky interplay between Albert and Moore.

All told, this album really does bring forth the best of two great jazz cities. And like both towns, the Jeff Albert Quartet is unique and fun.

Similar In The Opposite Way hit the streets last Janaury, courtesy of Fora Sound Records.

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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