Gilad Hekselman – Hearts Wide Open – Le Chant du Monde 2742037, 65:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:
(Gilad Hekselman – guitar, producer; Mark Turner – saxophone (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8); Joe Martin – bass; Marcus Gilmore – drums)
Guitarist Gilad Hekselman has the accessible familiarity which is a hallmark of Jim Hall, Pat Metheny and likeminded artists. While that’s an apt description, Hekselman’s avowed influences are pianists such as Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans and more recently Brad Mehldau. With those inspirations in mind, anyone who hears Hekselman’s hour-long third release, Hearts Wide Open, will understand the elegant, rolling style of Hekselman’s guitar: he definitely has an approach which can be labeled as pianistic.
Hekselman’s guitar turns out to be well suited as a counterpoint and foil for saxophone, which makes the four contributions with guest sax player Mark Turner the most notable material on this ten-track collection of original Hekselman compositions. Turner is no stranger to guitar/sax interplay: he has recorded with Kurt Rosenwinkel in similar musical surroundings. During the gracefully anxious “One More Song” Turner’s polished tasteful sax acts as a subtle undertow to Hekselman’s churning, sometimes tension-thick guitar. Turner’s solo near the six-minute mark of the ten-minute track shows his broader range, with bundled arpeggios which sweep atop the brisk rhythm laid down by bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore. On the slowly ticking “Brooze” the quartet moves through a slightly unsettling temperament which uses the blues as a foundation but effectively strays from the standard 12-bar blueprint. While Turner showcases his way with a balladic tone (Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins come to mind), Hekselman displays a mannerism reminiscent of John Scofield or Rosenwinkel, with brightly-colored melodic statements amidst the generally reflective moodiness. The title track also commences with a foreboding melancholy, but opens up with the introduction of a repeated melodic ingredient which lightens the mood. Again, the Rosenwinkel comparison is fitting when Hekselman solos. Turner’s solo is also noteworthy, where he urges the melody along with a complimentary characteristic. Guitar and sax intertwine even more adeptly during the equally contemplative “Understanding,” where Turner’s sensitive soulfulness is matched by Hekselman’s correspondingly wistful accompaniment. While the emotive tune does build up to a celebratory aspect, it concludes with a poignant guitar/sax reverberation.
The five trio pieces also offer plenty of Hekselman’s six-string craftsmanship. “Hazelnut Eyes” has traces of Americana folk in the arrangement, although Hekselman handles the rural intimations differently than, say, Bill Frisell, another jazz guitarist who utilizes countrified suggestions in his material. “Flower” also features a folksy melodic line, although this time Hekselman borrows from West African pop. This fairly simple tune is a good example of how well Hekselman employs melodic improvisation to provide absorbing moments. The swingiest cut is “The Bucket Kicker,” which has some fast-paced work by Martin and Gilmore while Hekselman’s swift fretboard efforts bring to mind Joe Pass. The trio closes with the sublime “Will You Let It?,” which has a freely rhythmic footing highlighted by Martin’s arco bass and Gilmore’s edgy brush work. It is too early to tell where Gilad Hekselman’s imagination and compositional ideas will take him, but Hearts Wide Open is a promising start and the ensuing journey could be an intriguing one to follow.
TrackList: Prologue; Hazelnut Eyes; One More Song; Flower; Brooze; Hearts Wide Open; The Bucket Kicker; Understanding; Will You Let It?; Epilogue
– Doug Simpson
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