thejazzbreakfast Review of COME TOGETHER MOVE APART

Reviewed by JJ Wheeler for thejazzbreakfast July 20, 2011

As the title suggests, there seems to be a lot of conflict in this record. We all know that jazz (like most music) is defined by tension and release, but there’s an edge to this second release from New York guitarist Nat Janoff that goes beyond the basic push and pull of most contemporary Bop-tinged music hailing from the other side of the Atlantic at the moment.

The realisation creeps in after several listens that, for me, the main conflict is between the bandleader’s composition and improvisation. In composition, melodies unravel slowly, they sit and groove in similar fashion to a classic organ trio. With unashamed simplicity the lines exuberate whistle-ability with great joy. However, as soon as the improvisation hits, the guitarist reels through melodic and harmonic lines at double tempo, granted with ease, but filling out the landscape with runs so fast the listener is almost out of breath by the second chorus.

Is this a criticism? Maybe. Some might argue that the improvisation could relate to the stimulus material more, rather than flying away in a more technically proficient but slightly more abrasive direction. On the other hand, many may find the change in textures provide a breath of fresh air, allowing the tunes to evolve into new creatures.

Bassist Francois Moutin seems to embrace the bandleader’s approach, providing densely populated bass lines which bubble and boil underneath the simplest of harmonic progressions, although perhaps threatening to spill over the edge occasionally? The level of technical proficiency from all four musicians on the album is highly commendable and ranks with the very best musicians of our generation. However, occasionally this level of competency seems to hinder the basic appeal (in an almost Neanderthal sense of human connection to the music) for the listener.

One musician who does seem to strike the balance between technical wizardry and connection with the music and audience is England’s own John Escreet. I’ve personally never heard John play in such a “straight ahead" (can we find a new term please? This one’s almost becoming a curse) context, but here his credentials in this area (as opposed to the more edgy, experimental and improvisational fields we might usually find Escreet in) are in no way damaged. Chris Carroll on drums also sounds like someone who is going to become a favourite of jazz musicians and audiences everywhere, although in a very similar mould to his contemporary, Johnathan Blake.

I’d like to finalise this piece by stating that this CD is definitely worth checking out. For all my gripes about technical ability impeding basic connection with the stimulus material (and these are intended more as question than statement of fact), the playing on this record is unbelievable, comparable to anything coming out of mainstream New York contemporary-Bop at the moment. Not only this, but Janoff’s compositions are delightful, with simple structures yet maintaining interest throughout. There’s no ‘skating’ or getting by, each moment seems to project meaning; something I find comes with experience and maturity.