Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Frank Potenza Trio – Old New Borrowed and Blue

The first thing that hits you when you hear this cd is that it sounds an awful lot like Joe Pass. Which is no surprise, considering that guitarist Frank Potenza is a protege of the late, great jazz player. This new album has an evocatively retro, early 60s feel, enhanced by the arrangements and the ensemble behind Potenza: Joe Bagg on Hammond organ, Steve Barnes on drums and Holly Hoffmann guesting on flute on several cuts. Most of the tracks here blend warm introspection with a carefree, smoky late-night vibe. They kick it off with Jimmy Smith’s Ready and Able, Bagg’s solo followed by one by Potenza showing off an effortlessly purist, subtly Pass-like approach to fast eight-note runs. I’m Walkin could have been a trainwreck (a vocal cover of a Brother Ray tune? Get real!) but it works because Potenza reinvents it, taking what was originally one step removed from Louis Jordan and transforming it into a smoothly swinging shuffle with a round, bluesy tone while maintaining Charles’ knowing certainty. Lee Morgan’s Party Time keeps the swing vibe intact, Potenza as sparing and incisive as before. Wes Montgomery’s Road Song/OGD adds a welcome edge of uncautiousness under the blue-sky fluidity of the melody.

The ballad A Weaver of Dreams has Hoffmann adding dark shades that may come as some surprise until you realize that’s her typical approach, with more of a reed player’s sense of texture and forcefulness. Star Eyes, popularized by Sarah Vaughan and countless others is understatedly catchy and winsome. Interestingly, the best track here is the lone Potenza original, Jacaranda, a straight-up groove number moving from almost hypnotic organ to expansive, purposeful guitar bluesiness.  

Not everything here works; I Wanna Be Loved only really makes sense if a chanteuse or a soul belter sings it and Potenza is neither. Of the two covers of schlocky pop songs here, they take Ode to Billie Joe up a notch but not enough to make it worth the effort; ironically, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, as odious as the original is, is redeemed by a very smart major-to-minor change that Potenza introduces on the chorus, giving it some striking gravitas (and he had the sense not to sing this one). If there’s any criticism of Potenza’s playing, it’s that it’s so close to Pass, so purist and so tasteful, no wasted notes anywhere – it would be interesting to see what indelibly personal touch he might add. Or maybe this is just how he likes to play – if so, that’s a good thing. Potenza is head of the jazz guitar school at USC: southern California readers are encouraged to go see him live.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment