Jake Hertzog – Throwback – Zoho

Jake Hertzog – Throwback – Zoho ZM 201314, 48:11 (Distr. by Allegro) [11/12/13] ****:

(Jake Hertzog – guitar; Randy Brecker – trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 1-2, 4, 6-7, 9); Harvie S – acoustic and electric bass; Victor Jones – acoustic and electric drums)

Guitarist Jake Hertzog knows rock and jazz. The young musician (he’s not yet 30) is the one-time musical director and lead guitarist for the Naked Brothers Band (a hit on the “Nickelodeon” TV channel) and co-leader of rock group the Young Presidents. On the jazz side, he’s a contributor to Guitar Player magazine, is a jazz award winner (Grand Prize, 2006 Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition), and has taught at jazz clinics and master classes around the nation. Hertzog’s previous three albums with his own trio have garnered attention and critical plaudits, and he advances his game on his fourth release, Throwback, issued in late 2013.

Hertzog’s regular rhythm team returns (bassist Harvie S and drummer Victor Jones), but this time Hertzog adds a special guest, trumpeter Randy Brecker, who plays on six of nine tracks. The title concept, Jake explains in the CD’s liner notes, has to do with attitude and methodology. The music specifically has a back-to-basics outlook, and was recorded with a one-day, four-microphone set-up to capture the band in the studio, with few overdubs or audio changes.

Hertzog’s nine originals showcase his varied influences and stylistic ideas. On the refined, brief “Is It Summer,” Harvie S sets the tone with arco bowing on his acoustic bass, while Hertzog presents subtle chords and Jones slips in delicate percussive touches. On the flip is the swing-inflected “Hands On,” a briskly-paced outing stimulated by Jones’ pliable brushwork and ticking sticks, Harvie S’s propulsive walking bass lines and Hertzog’s unencumbered six-string runs. Hertzog dubs the tune’s design as “drunken Thelonious Monk,” meaning it has an off-kilter motion and a nod-and-a-wink demeanor. While the musicianship is serious, “Hands On” displays Hertzog’s lighter mannerism. The trio’s other, relaxed number is “First to Rise,” which deliberately has a Midwestern ambiance akin to some recordings by Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden or Bill Frisell (like those esteemed performers, Hertzog was born in the heartland). This four-minute piece evokes early morning on the prairie or along a flat lake environment, with dew on the grass, fog on the water, the sun clearing the horizon, and maybe some chickens beginning to cluck.

The cuts with Brecker are positive highlights. Hertzog acknowledges he had unquestionable faith Brecker would fit into the arrangements, because Hertzog wanted somebody who could do the jazz playing but understood how rock elements in jazz are able to work: and the Brecker Brothers certainly had that combination and viewpoint. In some contexts, Brecker takes on the role a lead singer would have in a rock band, such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, U2’s Bono or Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who are all name-checked by Hertzog in the liner notes. On the lengthy opener, “All Over Now,” this tactic can be heard from the get-go, as Brecker engages the lyrical front line, with shimmering trumpet notes. Brecker also utilizes his trumpet in the function of a vocalist on the quietly building “Sending Home,” which starts as a gentle ballad and gradually intensifies: restraint, in time, is replaced by tension and energy, in ways which, Hertzog says, mirrors or echoes a similar upturn in songs by U2. The forceful, rock-tinted “Cleared to Fly” demonstrates even more interaction between trumpet and guitar, as Brecker and Hertzog trade lines, swap solos, and execute intricate improvisations. Here, Hertzog reveals his rock music personality with stinging six-string fret runs, while Jones and Harvie S lay down a driving rhythmic underpinning. Things heat up again on the escalating “Entropy” which proves the related, physics hypothesis that forward movement is constant. The dynamic track has several fiery exchanges between guitar and trumpet, in a toe-to-toe, call-and-response fashion. The unrestricted arrangement allows much freedom for Brecker and Hertzog to go wherever the muse takes them, and indeed they go, and go, and go. The quartet combo concludes with the title track, which is pulsed by a rock-saturated push. Brecker stabs the upper register with his horn, as Hertzog bares his technical ability as he flawlessly moves between chords, spontaneous shifts, and single lines. The piece gets added value when Jones inserts a boisterous, rock-based drum solo under the chorusing guitar and trumpet.

Throwback may have been missed by some jazz listeners when it was issued back in November, due to so much good jazz being released in the last few months, but fans of electric guitar and, obviously, Randy Brecker, should investigate this 48-minute excursion. Rob Fraboni’s production is also a plus: there is a robust auditory inclination which emphasizes the rock components (such as electric guitar and bass) while offering a slightly lighter impression to the drums, so they don’t dominate the bottom end like on most rock music albums. Bill Milkowski does his typically considerate writing on the informative album notes.

TrackList: All Over Now; Cleared to Fly; Is It Summer; Entropy; Hands On; Sending Home; Sweet Moon; First to Rise; Throwback.

—Doug Simpson

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