Nat Janoff: Come Together Move Apart (2010)
Guitarist Nat Janoff's Come Together Move Apart appears over a decade after his critically-applauded debut, Looking Through (Independent Records,1999). He's not been idle during the intervening years, but his recorded output has been sporadic. That's to be regretted, for Janoff's playing is a delight, and his fellow musicians on this album are some of the brightest and best on the scene.
Janoff's early influences include Eddie Van Halen, whose playing was the catalyst for Janoff's move from piano and bass to guitar, and John McLaughlin's Birds Of Fire (Columbia, 1973) (with Mahavishnu Orchestra, which hastened his move from rock to jazz.
The McLaughlin influence is still apparent, and led to Janoff's appearance on Mahavishnu Redefined II (ESC Records, 2010). It's here, too, on "Transit," but it's by no means the dominant sound. On most of the tunes Janoff displays a pure, effects-free and warm tone more reminiscent of Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery; a welcoming sound that is melodic and accessible, but still inventive. It's a sound that fits perfectly with the acoustic instruments of Janoff's band mates and one that, perhaps counter-intuitively, sounds more contemporary than the Mahavishnu-inspired parts.
On the opening section of the gentle "For Now" Janoff's fluid, finger-picked guitar has a folksy feel to it, but then he slides gracefully into some soft-touch single note runs. He takes a similar approach to "Hope Fills My Heart," with chordal washes interspersed with warm and positive phrases. On "Sketch 1" and "Sketch 2," two lightly beautiful companion pieces, he's at his most delicate.
Bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Chris Carroll play exactly what's necessarywhether that's sparse and considered ("Sketch 1"), driving and upbeat ("Partly Cloudy"), or fractured and spiky ("Transit"). Moutin is usually low in the mix but demands attention for its flexibility and funkiness. Carroll's playing, epitomized by his solo on the opening bars of the bop-ish "Shorter Times," is bouncy and swinging on the faster tempos, giving those tunes an added note of optimism.
Pianist John Escreet is superb. The New York-based Englishman shifts between rhythm and front line roles with apparent ease and creates some of the most intriguing and joyous patterns and runs he has ever recorded. There's a Bill Evans feel to his chordal playing on "Mood," while he matches Janoff note-for-note on "For Now," before taking his own lyrical solo, and adds some lovely phrases on "Sunday Morning."
The title of Come Together Move Apart is only half right. The quartet comes together from beat one, but never moves apart at any point. This is a richly rewarding album that showcases Janoff's exceptional guitar playing and at the same time heralds the arrival of a stunning new quartet. Let's hope that the quartet that comes together can stay together.
Track Listing: Mood; Shorter Times; For Now; Hope Fills My Heart; Sketch 1; Sunday Morning; Sketch 2; Partly Cloudy; Transit.
Personnel: Nat Janoff: guitar; John Escreet: piano; François Moutin: bass; Chris Carroll: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Modern Jazz