In 2009, Jake Hertzog was just a couple of years out of Berklee, just beginning to attract notice as a brilliant guitarist, composer and bandleader. That was when he made his debut record Chromatosphere fronting an all-star quartet that exposed the wide range of styles across the jazz and rock spectrums. Now fast forward four years later to Hertzog’s fourth album Throwback, and we find a musician who is still playing rock and jazz but has distilled into a tighter, more distinctive and more coherent style of his own, developing into a force his background has always pointed toward.
One thing that hasn’t changed from that first album is Hertzog’s rhythm section: Harvie S and Victor Jones are a bassist and drummer any frontman of most any kind of music would be privileged to have, as these gents are as accomplished as they come in their respective instruments. Hertzog loaded this album entirely with his own material, and for most of the tracks, he brought in another big name in trumpeter extraordinaire Randy Brecker.
Brecker’s inclusion on the record wasn’t done just to say he played on it; taking in the whole record, it’s clear Hertzog wanted to strike a certain balance between rock and jazz and Brecker’s forty-five year history in doing that gave Hertzog another solo voice who intimately understands what he’s shooting for.
“Entropy,” is a long form melody where Brecker’s clean tone is utilized to play the lead harmony, countered by Hertzog’s trademark intervallic technique. Some nice unison lines occur between them before Hertzog and Brecker square off against each other in a funky interlude, which is right up the trumpeter’s alley. On the title track, a rock shuffle announces the tune, with Brecker’s horn piercing right through it. Hertzog’s solo shows off his ability to seamlessly shift between single lines and chorded patterns and the tune is capped off with Jones performing a rip-roaring, all-rock drum solo behind the chorus.
Hertzog’s agility is further displayed on “Cleared To Fly” as he plays a tightly compacted figure over a calypso cadence. “Sweet Moon” is another interesting tune set at first to a Brazilian rhythm and based on Harvie S’s repeating bass figure that bears some similarity to the short chorus line in Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof.” Jones hits the cymbals with increasing volume, egging on Hertzog’s solo, and tempo changes to a swing when Brecker takes the reins and digs deep into the harmony.
“Sending Home,” also showcases Brecker and his ability to mimic a vocalist — a rock vocalist, even — as what begins as a ballad picks up steam as he builds up toward an ear-catching crescendo. Three tracks are trio performances, the most notable of these being “Hands On,” which Hertzog aptly describes as one of his “drunken Monk” songs. Even though it swings, Jones is driving hard like a rock drummer, and Hertzog has bop chops to spare. Of course, Harvie S crushes his solo, too. “First To Rise” is another Brecker-less track, notable not because of dazzling improvising but because Hertzog had conceived a fetching, Midwestern style folk tune that you could swear is some sturdy old standard.
The expectations have been set high for Jake Hertzog since he had gotten off to such a nice start to his career. Throwback meets those lofty expectations.
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