Randy Brecker-Trumpet and Flugelhorn (except # 3, 5 & 8)
Harvie S – Acoustic and Electric Bass
Victor Jones-Acoustic and Electric DrumsOn his previous three trio outings – 2009’s Chromatosphere, 2010’s Patterns and 2011’s Evolution, young guitar slinger Jake Hertzog established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the six-string world. Guitar Player magazine called him a “blazing wunderkind” and lauded him for his unorthodox intervallic maneuvers, unique hybrid picking technique and startlingly fresh approach to the fretboard. Other critics followed suit in heaping praise on the rock-inflected jazz player who successfully combined the visceral and cerebral into one compelling package. With Throwback, the six-string sensation with unlimited potential takes things up a notch.
Jake’s regular rhythm tandem of veteran bassist Harvie S and multi-directional drummer Victor Jones is back on board for his fourth as a leader. But this time out he’s added a new voice to that solid chemistry that resounds with rare authority. It belongs to jazz-rock pioneer and iconic trumpeter Randy Brecker, who blazed the fusion trail during the mid ‘70s, alongside his tenor sax playing brother Michael, in the Brecker Bros. Band.
“I was really lucky to get Randy on this project,” says Hertzog, who at age 27 was born four years after the Brecker Bros. Band broke up. “He is one of those guys who not only really gets the jazz thing but the rock thing as well. For my music it’s a prerequisite to have that dual musical personality, so to speak. Victor and Harvie can kind of float in both of those universes with equal legitimacy and Randy is the same way. And of course, he knocked it out of the park.”
Hertzog envisioned a very specific role for Brecker in enlisting him for “Throwback”. “What I value most in musicians is people who have an original voice and something to say with their instrument, and Randy certainly qualifies on both counts. He’s been at the top of that game for longer than I’ve been alive, and it really shows. Every note he plays means something, and I really admire that. So for this project I wanted him to be almost more like the lead singer in a rock band than a trumpet player, like Bono in U2, Kurt Cobain in Nirvana, Eddie Vedder in Pearl Jam or Chris Cornell in Soundgarden. So I arranged it so he could just kind of float above and do whatever and it would sound great as long as the rhythm section is cooking.”
And Brecker rises to the occasion with heroic playing throughout while contributing harmonic ideas that subtly tweak the proceedings in unpredictable ways.
The writing on Throwback is deeper, more nuanced and accomplished than Hertzog’s previous outings, as exemplified by the zen-delicate Is It Summer, the beautifully lyrical opener All Over Now and the dramatic Sending Home, which begins as a fragile ballad showcase for Brecker and gradually builds to an ecstatic crescendo that has the great trumpeter wailing over the top in vocal fashion. “I feel like that’s our ‘Joshua Tree’ moment,” says Jake of that powerful number. “I was wanting to make a jazz version of ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ or ‘With Or Without You,’ a tune like that where it starts really mellow and gets nuts at the end, where the tension just builds and builds. Randy totally understood that concept from the get-go and he just destroyed it.”
The relaxed trio number First to Rise shows great maturity in Jake’s writing and is imbued with the kind of heartland feel often heard in the music of Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. “I think there’s something about that Midwestern thing,” says the native of Champaign/Urbana, Illinois. “It just must be in the DNA because it’s certainly deep in Metheny’s music, it’s deep in Frisell’s music and it’s definitely something I find myself coming back to, either consciously or unconsciously. I’m sure that if we took a geographic survey of all the jazz musicians from the so-called ‘flyover states’, you’d find that heartland quality in a lot of their music. It seems to be part of what you hear when you’re growing up there.”
But Jake also shows that he’s lost none of his edge, as he so forcefully demonstrates on more aggressive numbers like the intense, high-energy “Cleared to Fly,” the slamming “Entropy” and the dynamic title track that closes the album with a visceral flurry. Hertzog points out that he was thrilled to go toe-to-toe with Brecker in their call-and-response exchanges on “Entropy.”
“One of my goals was to see if we could have a little bit of a gun battle moment together,” he says. “I was feeling very fortunate to be in the studio with Randy, so I figured, ‘Why not?’ And that tune, since it’s very open-ended, seemed like a natural form where we could do whatever the hell we wanted and it would work.”
The lone ‘jazzy’ tune here is a kind of tongue-in-cheek uptempo number entitled Hands On, a briskly swinging trio romp fueled by Jones’ supple brushwork and Harvie’s walking bass. Says Jake, “One of our references with this trio is what I call ‘drunken Thelonious Monk.’ It’s a slightly off-kiltered, Monkish thing that we occasionally like to do in an almost comical way; somewhere between a jazz tune and a parody on a jazz tune. Goofiness has always been a part of jazz through cats like Dizzy Gillespie and Monk and Fats Waller…all these guys that were a little wacky in a funny, adorable way. And when I’m at a concert, I love moments like that where you can see a little bit more of the lighter side of the musicians, where they don’t take it too seriously.”
The album title, Jake explains, has to do with both his attitude toward the music and the method in which it was recorded. “From the inception of this project, the idea was to go a little bit back-to-basics and make a very classic one-day, four-microphone, one-take type of jazz record, in contrast to my other albums that were really more done like rock albums with overdubs and sound changes and things like that. This one is really a throwback to a 1960s conception of a jazz record. You get four dudes in a room, you put up a couple of mics, you got one day, you hit the record button and that’s the record. And it was kind of a natural way to do this particular record because we didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, we didn’t have a big tour leading up to the recording session. So it was strictly a whatever happens, happens scenario in the studio.”
And with four such stellar players and risk-takers, the results are scintillating.
– Bill Milkowski