Frank Kohl Quartet – Coast to Coast (2011)

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Frank Kohl approaches the guitar with an exuberant curiosity, but also a well-crafted ability — skittering from influence to influence without ever stumbling. He sounds like he’s having a ball, too. That’s led to an album called Coast to Coast that boasts a savvy veteran player’s satisfying structural logic, but also its share of humor and fun.

Kohl gets off to a fast start, with “Wide Open,” the first of six original pieces. The Seattle guitarist bursts out amidst a bouncy, insistent rhythm signature from drummer Jon Koty and bassist Steve Roane. That boisterous interplay allows Kohl to work at a varied pace, moving behind the beat and then just in front of it — all the while sounding as effortlessly engaging as a classic Wes Montgomery pop-jazz side. Pianist Tom Kohl’s shrewdly involving solo, bolstered a series of trickling runs, only adds to the tune’s stirring optimism. It’s a vibrant, sun-filled opening track.

The album’s title tune follows. A riffy, swinging affair, it’s more in keeping with Montgomery’s earliest post-bop projects. Playing alongside a supremely confident Roane, who consistently lays down a firm bass foundation across the breadth of Coast to Coast, Kohl explores a series of buoyant themes to great effect. When Roane takes a solo turn, he really shines, too — adding attractive new contours to the proceedings.

A similar swinging symbiosis drives the moving ballad “A Call for Peace,” which again features Doty at the drums. While Kohl unfurls a series of finely spin lines, Doty explores an intriguing selection of polyrhythms. Though wordless, the instrumental nevertheless conveys both a deep concern and a stoic protest in the face of ongoing conflict. Tom Kohl also returns to provide a series of dark shadings at the piano, underscoring the tune’s gravity without ever taking away from the guitarist’s searching, heartfelt solo musings.

The original “Fly Away,” not to be confused with the oft-recorded gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away,” begins in a similarly ruminative mood, though from the start this tune has the feel of a reverie rather than a rebuke. Soon, Roane and Jerry Fitzgerald, who takes over on drums for three of the remaining four cuts, have kicked into gear — finding a skipping rhythm that allows Kohl to soar once more. Channeling the most free-wheeling, open-hearted sounds of Pat Metheny, Kohl is as amiable as he is quick fingered. During his eventual solo, Tom Hohl plays with a stuttering force; the sounds this time arrive in clusters that suggest an afternoon storm cloud bursting.

Conversely, his opening piano on “Bright Night,” so softly introverted, sounds like something out of Miles Davis’ late-1950s modal jazz triumph Kind of Blue. Kohl answers in kind, playing with a caressing beauty. It’s perhaps the most impressionistic moment on Coast to Coast, and certainly one of its most attractive. Kohl’s take on Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford,” meanwhile, has a delightfully bluesy edge. In a move that almost belies some of the prettier moments that came before on Coast to Coast, Kohl punches out rows of notes with power, and grit.

“Old Country,” the Nat Adderley composition, is perhaps best remembered as a vehicle for vocalists like Nancy Wilson. Kohl does an impressive job of returning the tune to its instrumental roots, without following too closely along with its familiar lyrical framework. This has the effect of making “Old Country” sound both like a cover song and like something else as yet unheard. “When All Is Well,” the album’s final original (and closing) track, finds Kohl and Co. again returning to the gliding approachability long associated with Metheny. Perhaps most intriguing, Kohl does it all while playing before a busy rhythm section, something that adds another layer of complexity to the song.

Don’t let the happy-go-lucky attitude fool you. Coast to Coast is presented, from first to last, with a memorable conviction, and an even greater facility.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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