Review of "Borderlands"
Fanfare Magazine, March/April 2011
by Lynn René Bayley
Jonathan Lorentz has really got it: a great style, an explorative mind, and a concept for this album that goes beyond the usual fare you hear from jazz sax trios. Although he is very obviously influenced by Coltrane (and, to a lesser extent, by Sonny Rollins), he does not imitate either except to use his rich yet vibratoless tenor saxophone to create musical patterns that are both lyrical and explorative. He's not really an improviser on the outer fringe, as Trane was (especially in his late years), opting for simplicity of expression rather than complication, but he definitely has his own thing going simultaneously lyrical and surreal.
Indeed, the surrealistic aspect of the CD is immediately apparent from the opening track, where cymbal washes suggest howling winds in the wilderness while a wordless vocal by Suzanne Kantorski, singing along with Lorentz, remind one strongly of the pioneer work that Ursula Dudziak did back in the late 1970s, except that Kantorski is singing straight into the mike and not using an octave-box to alter the pitch of her voice. This is followed by Sounds Like, which has some of the propulsion and mosaic-like quality one associates with Ornette Coleman. The melody is a four-bar head with three bars in 5/4 and one in 6/4. Rhythmic quirkiness also comes to the fore in Hrmmm... with its somewhat convoluted melody, while drummer David Calarco's one compositional contribution to the album, Trane Fare, plays homage to one of Lorentz's musical models. Drive Down is best described by annotator Michael J. West as "a slinky tune that's all but made for a black-and-white 1950s film noir soundtrack," again using Kantorski's voice but in an almost sinister wayshades of Loulie Jean Norman! (And if you don't know who Loulie Jean was, you are extremely unhip; just ask Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond, The Tokens, Spike Jones, and Frank Sinatra, for whom, among many others, she contributed some exquisite and often striking background vocals.) John Menegon's wife, Teri Roiger, lends her quite different, laser-pointed voice to The Sign, in the first half of which she is slightly distorted by a filtered microphone. The initial theme of Borderlands is improvised on by members of the trio in three further variations scattered through the album: Calarco in Part 2, Menegon in Part 3, and then, of course, Lorentz in Part 4. The latter, being played a capella, has a rather lost and forlorn sound, which for me rather sums up the entire album. Even the concluding Addiction, which takes a more seductive strut (here, Roiger's voice reminds me, mostly in phrasing but also partly in timbre, of Katharine Whalen, who sang with the Squirrel Nut Zippers), seems to fit in to the overall concept of the album.
This one will stay with you for a long, long, time. Phrases from it will play in your mind like a tape loop from space.
Review of "Borderlands"
by Randy Treece
The recent jazz transplant Jonathan Lorentz, who originally hails from rustic Vermont and now makes his residence a "stone's throw away" in Round Lake by way of New York City, is a musician, composer, arranger, and teacher, and who released in late 2010, Borderlands. Joining Lorentz on this creative quest are local and well-known jazz mainstays bassist John Menegon, Menegon's wife, the ever popular vocalist Terri Roiger, drummer Dave Calarco, and vocalist Suzanne Kantorski.
All of the compositions on the CD, sans two, are written and arranged by Lorentz. The overarching theme for this CD has as its muse the painting entitled the same by Shawn Snow that graces the cover. The theme is segmented into four parts with various permutations, and compiled into fifteen tracks. The music is not your typical anticipated jazz blues or bebop or even post bop. Overall, the compositions are complex, daunting to the uninitiated whose musical ears, such as yours truly, are not so inclined to such musical sophistication and nuances. To appreciate the artistic dimension and vision of Lorentz's music, you would need to understand his musical pedigree, philosophy, and tutelage.
Lorentz did not arrive at jazz's doorsteps without hefty intellectual luggage. Lorentz's resume is chock full of musical degrees, the pinnacle of which being a Ph.D from New York University in jazz study and musical theory. Several jazz sub-genres appeal to his artistic appetite, from jazz blues to avant garde, with the latter having the greater draw. Many well-recognized saxophonists, including John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Ralph Lalama, have shaped his sound but his greatest influence - actually becoming a devoted discipline - is the musical theorist extraordinaire and exceptional saxophonist George Garzone. Garzone is principally known for deconstructing the music of John Coltrane and developing the Triad Chromatic Approach that allows for enhanced improvisation and provides a musician more freedom over the traditional chromatic sequences based upon a triad. All of this is some really heady stuff and I submit this is the theoretical account from which Lorentz searches for greater artistic challenges.
As I stated earlier, the recording is in four parts: Parts I and IV are provided by Lorentz; Part II by Dave Calarco; and Part III by John Menegon. It is often the first selection that states the at-large motif for the recording and should make the first impression. I did not find "Borderlands, Part One", an auspicious commencement. I could not wrap my head nor ears around the haunting, dirge-like statement, with vocal overlays provided by Kantorski, and square that with the songs that follow. Standing on its own, "Borderlands" could be embraced as a rather lingering attractive refrain, but I found the vocal's dark dramatic tensions discordant to the next cut, the swinging "Sound Like". Had the order of the two sounds been swapped or "Borderlands" presented later in the mix, my reservation would not deserve mentioning, but I accept that staging is solely the artist prerogative. Turning to "Sound Like", this song is as propulsive and high octane as one can get and the rhythm section excels underneath a memorable musical theme delivered by Lorentz. I submit no listener would have any concern swaying to this hip tune.
"Hurmmm" is a more cerebral piece with several variations, and requires rapt attention and maybe a couple of listenings to fully appreciate the breadth of the musical statements therein. After multiple listenings, I found the piece to be playful in an intellectual sort of way.
The unmistakable and obvious muse for Dave Calarco's "Trane Fare" is John Coltrane's "Giant Steps". Lorentz, Calarco, and Menegon sidestep "Giant Steps'" complex harmonics to dabble in free form. Calarco's drum solo is truly noteworthy and Lorentz spins the complex chord jumps just perfectly. The spirit, impulse, and integrity of "Trane Fare" makes this a keeper.
Menegon introduces us to "Drive Down" with an ambrosial solo and then maintains his presence with a strong, memorable bass line. "Drive Down" has a stealth gray-like sentimentality primarily because Lorentz's foreboding sax rendering is joined by Kantorski's ruminative wordless vocal musings. Adding sullen coloring is the uncluttered sparing rhythmic shifts from Calarco. This cut seems more aligned with the initial haunting theme heard on "Borderlands."
Part II starts with a hand-drum solo from Calarco and then erupts into ubër pace "Stir." The piece wallows in post-bop sensibilities. The breakneck changes and intense displays of musicianship from the triumvirate will surely grab your immediate attention. Again, Calarco's rather extended solo percolates.
I particularly enjoy "He's the Budz", a playful tune that swings and is engaging on all levels. The liner notes tell us that it is a tribute to his son, Julius, and it possesses an endearing catchy quality that even a child would relish.
The most spectacular and creative song on the CD, on oh so many planes, is "The Sign". It is a mystical and uncanny song about loss and loneliness. On "The Sign", Lorentz's sound is deep and brooding conveying the weight of wanderlust, but it is Terri Roiger's especial interpretation of the lyrics, juxtaposed between a megaphone-like filter, which seems to strip her voice of any sonority, and then her clear, steady voice, that lends true pathos to the song - in a David Lynch's"Blue Velvet" surreal kind of way. I love her profound portrayal of resignation. Supporting both Lorentz and Roiger is a stripped down rhythm with a back-beat. I could listen to this captivating song over and over and over.
Menegon begins Part III with a brief solo. Like Part II, after the introduction, the next song bursts onto the scene. This time the selection is "You Snooze You Lose Blues". It is a short, albeit playful, funky tune. Remaining in the vein of playfulness and funky, the trio presents a James Brown-like funk called "Drums Play". As the title invites, Calarco has fun interjecting drumming interludes, while Lorentz soars with a fetching, Maceo Parker type of lick, before unleashing his solo. "Drums Play" is all merriment.
Menegon's "Motion Detector" is a euphonious and agile piece with an interesting interplay between Lorentz and wordless vocals from Kantorski. But the piece is not only to showcase Menegon's writing, but also his stellar musicianship.
As we venture into Part IV, Lorentz repeats "Borderlands" unaccompanied. It is just Lorentz and his copious, deep sound stating an enigmatic notion. The set concludes with "Addiction", an ode written by Lorentz to dirty talk - " I can't stop . . . drinking you down . . . to opulent kiss and copulative bliss." Roiger delivers the message and does so fairly well in a film noire type of way. Lorentz's spare solos underpin the wickedness of the moment. This is clearly a mood-setter for good or nefariousness -if you get my drift.
This is a CD that clearly requires your advertent attention. You cannot listen to this while driving the car, cleaning the house, or treat it as background music. You cannot let any distraction divert your attention or you will miss the fine tuning of Lorentz's creative journey.
Jonathan Lorentz Trio: Delivering Saturday Night Cool as Promised
by Mishel Felisha
The bistro bar at 74 State is an accommodating atmosphere for jazz listening. The exposed brick walls and unique paneled woodwork contribute to a roomy yet intimate environment. Patrons are treated to a cityscape view through the signature 36-foot window, a feature comparable to the nicest cocktail rooms in any major cosmopolitan area. Serving martinis that taste like martinis, and not like the low-grade petroleum products some Albany bars pass off as classic cocktails, a knowledgeable bar and waitstaff don't sacrifice professionalism in their welcoming friendliness. With dimmed lighting that makes everyone look Saturday-night good, 74 State is definitely a smooth spot.
Great music is the necessary addition to this evening scene, and Saturday evening the Jonathan Lorentz Trio provided an evening of quality jazz, hosting a group of avid listeners through a vibrant set of standards and originals. The usual trio made up of Jonathan Lorentz on saxophone, John Menegon on acoustic bass and David Calarco on drums was joined by special guest pianist Francesca Tanksley.
Lorentz--a dynamic saxophone player with an even tone and easy stage presence--led the first set, which included tunes by John Coltrane, Joe Lovano and Thelonious Monk, as well as three original compositions. His lucid playing has a classic appeal that allows for both intense expression and postmodern playfulness. Menegon's clean technique brings out the full sound of his instrument. His dexterous, silky playing has auditory strength that articulates each song's backbone. Tanksley's expert comping keeps the listener anchored to every moment. Her quick-paced runs create a cascading effect that highlights the music's movement. Calarco's fast, close cymbal work outlines his drum sound, though it was his use of toms that defined a particularly innovative solo on Monk's "Well, You Needn't." His relaxed demeanor carries with it in-the-moment rhythms that reveal adept use of space.
The first originals featured in the set, available on the Borderlands recording, were a departure from a more aggressive bop influence. Beginning with a slow creeping intro, an initial dark mood was set--simple and mysterious. An intensifying bluesy progression walked the listener into a scene in high contrast black and white. Then, film noir was introduced to 1950s avant-garde New York City and the song developed into an excited collaboration in which each player highlighted their impressive individualized skills.
The group played seamlessly as quartet. Each performer was encouraging of the others' playing, obviously enjoying the responsiveness entailed in good improvisation. Tight dynamics. Impressive artistry.
For those of you who missed Jonathan Lorentz Trio on Saturday, be sure to check them out this coming Saturday, March 12 at 9 Maple Ave in Saratoga Springs. Treat yourself to some real jazz.