Paul Bollenback Airs Out His Animated Tropical Guitar Songbook at le Poisson Rouge
Longtime Joey DeFrancesco guitarist Paul Bollenback played the release show for his latest album as a leader, Brazilian-flavored new album, the Brazilian-tinged Portraits in Space and Time (just out from Mayimba Music) at the Poisson Rouge Saturday night. The big drawing card was Jeff “Tain” Watts being his usual charismatic and occasionally explosive self behind the drums, but the whole lineup, including tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Joseph LePore and percussionist Rogerio Boccato all delivered plenty of riveting moments. There was a point early in the set where Strickland fired off a searing volley of minor-key blues and then handed off to Bollenback, who took it all the way up with a lightning flurry of his own. But that was the exception rather than the rule – and all the more intense considering that Bollenback took his time getitng there. He’s the rare guitarist who’d rather build a mood or spin a good story rather than indulging in fireworks.
The album is a very intimate one, just a trio session with LePore and Boccato, so this was an opportunity to give those conversational compositions more room to expand. Bollenback and Strickland immediately introduced a bop vernacular to open the show: from the first beats, Boccato and Watts became a four-handed beast, their commitment to the clave was so singleminded. It was especially interesting to watch Boccato – who plays drumset as well as percussion on the album – sitting on his cajon behind his congas, rattling his chekere and assortment of playful devices, and playing it all like a regular kit. Meanwhile, Watts would grinningly shift from the latin groove to swinging funk and a couple of triumphant New Orleans street-beat interludes, with the expected firepower coming front and center when he finally cut loose with a solo about two-thirds of the way through the show. With this much rhythm going on, LePore was all smiles and kinetic energy, supplying the occasional muscular, dancing solo.
Bollenback peppered his animatedly reflective trajectories with frequent references to Muscle Shoals soul and the blues, much in the same vein as his work with DeFrancesco, along with an enlightened survey of much of postbop jazz guitar from Gene Bertoncini on forward. It wasn’t long before he put down his electric for an acoustic-electric model which he played through a volume pedal, which somewhat paradoxically worked to raise the energy while expanding the dynamic range on the quiet, sustained side. Most of the material was drawn from the new album, one number segueing into the next via graceful guitar lead-ins. An early tune worked some unexpected and vastly enjoyable, bracingly nocturnal modes. Homecoming, its elegant chord sequences sandwiching some lively teamwork from Strickland and Bollenback, and a later ballad with starlit guitar intro and slinky tropical ambience courtesy of the rhythm section, were two of the highlights. Bollenback is so tasteful and gets so much work as a sideman that he doesn’t get as many chances to lead as he deserves, so this was a rare treat.
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