The name “Grant Geissman” comes up and my mind’s radio instantly tunes to Chuck Mangione’s 1978 hit “Feels So Good,” the highlight of which is Geissman’s flashy guitar solo, which was anything but formulaic. But the story doesn’t end there for Mr. Geissman. Not hardly.
Geissman, who these days write scores for TV shows like Two And A Half Men and Mike & Molly, has gone on to make sixteen albums of his own. That’s including one coming out next week titled Bop! Bang! Boom!. When I last checked into what Geissman had been up to on his records a few years back, it struck me to be the overly-slick, predictable fare of smooth jazz, and now I’ve found he’s since righted the ship with a jazz that’s still contemporary but more artful and firmly based on the straight-ahead variety, beginning with 2006’s Say That. The streak continued with 2009’s Cool Man Cool and the forthcoming Bop! Bang! Boom! makes it a trilogy, all of which are sold through Geissman’s own Futurism label. Maybe the artistic freedom possible from being your own record company has made these kinds of records possible, but for whatever reason, it’s a welcome development.
As we progress through those Futurism albums, there seems to be more and more high profile guest stars on his records. Cool boasts the likes of Mangione, Chick Corea. Russell Ferrante, Tom Scott, Van Dyke Parks and Patrice Rushen. Bop! brings back Ferrante, Parks and Scott, and adds the talents of Larry Carlton, Albert Lee, Leland Sklar and others to the mix. That said, Geissman writes this entire batch of songs with varying styles, and produces it; this isn’t entirely a “Grant Geissman & Friends” affair.
One of the songs on his album I’m drawn to is the sinuous, nocturnal vibe of “Good Morning, Mr. Phelps” (and for our post-baby boomer audience, the title doesn’t refer to the Olympian swimming star, it is the opening line that begins every episode of the 1960s TV series Mission Impossible). The combination of Ferrante’s warm, discreet Fender Rhodes with Brian Scanlon’s soprano sax throws off a late-70s Grover Washington, Jr. drift, but with an organic arrangement — such as an acoustic bass from Kevin Axt — and made cooler by Geissman’s soft-toned Montgomery articulations. It’s not like Geissman can even help doing that if he wanted to. “Coming up I played probably hundreds of hours of Wes records,” he admits, “and it just comes out.”
There’s a lot more guitar personalities than just Wes Montgomery on the new record that he reveals, and it allows him to visit so many sub-genres within jazz and find a way to make these songs more than just sub-genre exercises, and it’s what ultimately makes “Good Morning, Mr. Phelps” go further than just being a good Grover Washington re-write. Grant Geissman may be far removed from his career-defining turn on “Feel So Good,” but playing jazz that seeks to make people feel good remains his mantra. Even more so today.
Bop! Bang! Boom! is scheduled for release on July 17. Visit Grant Geissman’s site for more info.
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