Paul Bollenback Brings Tropical-Tinged Tunefulness to le Poisson Rouge
Guitarist Paul Bollenback has gotten a lot of props for his long association with organist Joey DeFrancesco. But he’s a composer and bandleader in his own right, and with an intriguing, Brazilian-flavored new album, Portraits in Space and Time (streaming at Spotify) and an album release show coming up at 7:30 PM this Saturday, Sept 27 at le Poisson Rouge with a phenomenal lineup including Marcus Strickland, Joseph LePore, Rogerio Boccato and Jeff “Tain” Watts. A show by a group of this caliber for ten bucks in advance is not to be missed!
The album is an intimate trio session with Lepore on bass and Sao Paolo’s Boccato on drums and percussion. It seems to be more of an attempt to bottle the magic of a live set rather than simply to document a new set of compositions: segues are front and center here, and they’re good. The music moves fluidly with lively interaction and spontaneity: there’s a lot of good chemistry here.
Bollenback’s signature translucence and knack for melodic hooks also takes centerstage throughout the compositions, a mix of acoustic and electric numbers. The opening track, Calling the Spirits, works a steadily rising Indian-tinged theme that draws on Bollenback’s longtime fondness for exotic sounds and sets the stage, thematically, for the rest of the album: virtually everything here follows a matter-of-fact, often almost imperceptible upward trajectory. Homecoming artfully blends hints of Americana and bossa nova, beginning like a more carbonated take on Bill Frisell, Bollenback animatedly shifting chords in a Peter Bernstein-like vein before Lepore’s chugging but pointillistic solo. The trio follow that with Three Days, a slowly unwinding jazz waltz set to Boccato’s low-key but lithe brushwork and Lepore’s similarly graceful pulse.
One of a handful of miniatures interspersed between the longer numbers, Collective pairs Lepore’s dancing bass with Boccato’s animated rimshots and Bollenback’s spare, lingering, bossa-tinged lines. Another, Jungle, pairs brightly incisive harmonics from the guitar with Boccato’s wryly scurrying percussion. Bollenback works his way methodically up to a spiky, incisive solo on Sunset, the most album’s most straight-up bossa nova number. Little Island has Bollenback’s acoustic guitar building the tune with equal parts Jobim breeziness and a contrasting chromatic bite, Boccato alternating between emphatic cymbal work and a suspenseful prowl around the edges of the drumkit.
They follow that with Bird in the Sky, a vivid, methodically crescendoing acoustic ballad that nimbly alternates between tenderness and wariness. Bollenback’s airy washes anchor Lepore’s balletesque leaps as Open Hand gets going, then the guitar and drums take it in the direction of early 70s psychedelic funk before Bollenback airs out a series of wry quotes and tongue-in-cheek riffs.
Subtle metric shifts underpinned by a persistent, graceful groove liven the graceful Dance Delicious. Lepore contributes a starkly swirling, baroque-flavored, bowed solo before Boccato kicks in with an understated clave beat for Dance of Hands, lit up by Bollenback’s alternately judicious chordal phrasing and spiraling solos. Lights, another jazz waltz, juxtaposes Bollenback’s vigorous, incancescent wee-hours theme with a nonchalant swing and a spacious Lepore solo. The album winds up with Swinging at Capone’s, a shapeshifting mix of elements from wee-hours blues to noir funk to straight-ahead swing.
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