As I have said before, I have been thrilled and overwhelmed by how many great artists have contacted me as a result of my reviews here at Gear Diary. On the one hand it has meant discovering artists and music I would otherwise have missed … but on the other hand it becomes challenging to properly absorb all of the great music (I know, pity me right?).
I still find myself discovering new things in recordings from last year, so it is great in many ways when the craziness of life and new music releases force me to keep leaving and returning. It is great because each time I find some assumption challenged, something new learned. This will be a recurring theme with all of my upcoming reviews, but is particularly true with ‘Come Together Move Apart’ from guitarist Nat Janoff, an artist I had never heard or heard about before last month. So let’s take a look at his latest recording!
Summary: This is going to sound somewhere between bizarre and hypocritical, but I am always skeptical of combos let by guitar and piano. This despite Pat Metheny being one of my favorite artists (and his collaborations with pianist Lyle Mays are amongst their most successful stuff), and in spite of great works such as Undercurrent by Jim Hall and Bill Evans. Why? Because the two instruments travel a similar harmonic space, making it easier to trample on each other than to enhance the musical experience. Fortunately the pairing here works very well, enhancing the songs and providing a richer experience than would have been possible with a trio.
Nat Janoff’s quartet consists of Janoff on guitar, John Escreet on piano, François Moutin: bass; Chris Carroll: drums. I can easily say that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of parts’, but that diminishes the individual contributions. Moutin and Carroll maintain the foundation, but tend to play as if they are in a trio rather than a quartet – to great effect! Rather than having either the piano or guitar fill the sonic space while the other solos, Carroll keeps things moving and interesting while Moutin spells out the chords but also adds rhythmic and harmonic hits throughout to provide added support to the soloist.
John Escreet is tremendous here – if you played me a chunk of ‘Hope Fills My Heart’ I could easily believe this was a trio recording by a pianist … and a darn good one! The level of interaction and communication is complex and intricate throughout, and his soloing and supporting harmonies add something to every song. Janoff says he originally envisioned a Fender Rhodes for the songs, but the tonality of the acoustic piano works magnificently with these compositions, and allows a subtlety that would have been lost with the Rhodes that enhance each of the songs.
But in the end this is clearly Janoff’s baby: the guitarist shows influences of guitarists both classic and modern, from Metheny on the opener to McLaughlin on the closer, with sprinklings of Wes in between. But Janoff is nobody’s clone – while there are clear influences, there is also a distinct and engaging voice that has something to say. This isn’t an exercise in pulling off tricky runs or showing off virtuosic techniques – though those are certainly present, they are just a means to delivering the story that Janoff has to tell.
As I mentioned, the opening song ‘Mood’ has what felt like a Pat Metheny feel in the opening melody and arrangement, but as you can witness in the video below, Janoff and the group take the song in their own direction. I found that familiarity eased me comfortably into the recording, allowing me to relax as I had a feel of the sorts of things to expect from styles and quality of presentation, but also that while these guys are clearly playing ‘in the tradition’, they bring a broad depth and breadth of experience that encompasses jazz, rock, fusion and world music to bear on the songs. I knew I wouldn’t be bored!
One danger with self-producing as Janoff has done is I have seen great music that ends up sounding … well, not so great. Sunday Morning is a great example of this: Moutin starts with a shifting rhythmic bass figure, then is joined by Carroll and Escreet creeps into the mix subtly and finally Janoff comes in on top before the band melds to state the theme. Everyone is clearly audible and fully present at all times without succumbing to the ‘battle of loudness’ we see way too often in music. Janoff’s songs use space and silence both harmonically and sonically to produce drama and do so to great effect.
It has been just over a month since I first conversed with Nat Janoff and then bought his recording on iTunes after previewing a few tracks on his website, and during that time I have listened to the album at least a dozen times through. And yet I continue to hear new things, enjoy different elements, pick a new song to love. That is music discovery for me – not just finding something new to check out, but discovering that within that new recording is a wealth of experience that will bring you back again and again.
Choice Track (and why): Choosing a single track proved difficult as it seemed to change several times, between Sunday Morning, Hope Fills My Heart, and others. Ultimately I am sticking with my first choice – Partly Cloudy. My reasoning is simple – it exemplifies everything about this recording: everyone’s voice is heard clearly, everyone adds vital elements to the song as it develops, and we run the gamut from slow melodic passages through funky stop-time moves though burning solos. The harmonic space each player explores reveals itself more and more with subsequent listens.
You Might Love This If: If you are a fan of any form of improvised instrumental music you will enjoy this – there is a clear mainstream jazz overtone, but also loads of modern jazz stylings, rock overtones, great compositions, and great playing by four guys with serious chops. Definitely one of my favorite recordings this year (even though it came out late last year), and I highly recommend checking it out!
Where to Buy: iTunes Music Store – $8.91
Here is a video of the Nat Janoff playing ‘Mood’ in a recent appearance: