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.