Jan 25 2016
I’m gonna focus on two recent recordings by Danish guitarist Thomas Maintz, because aside from both being solid albums, they’re a nice illustration of how a musician can thrive in both straight-ahead and off-road forms of jazz while keeping true to their own personal sound. It also shows how the slightest shifts and exploitation of nuance can bring about some profoundly different results.
Thomas Maintz, Scott Colley and Johnathan Blake – Present
“Life in the Key of C” opens Present with some standard fare. Maintz’s guitar methodically runs through lines of bright notes emitting a distant warmth, and drummer Jonathan Blake keeps to a calm chatter and gets his cymbals to sound like the comforting crash of gentle waves on the shore while bassist Scott Colley serves as the driving force, lyrically, with an undercurrent that resonates with no little strength. It’s much the same on subsequent track “Miller Watermark,” and at this point, it’s safe to say that this is going to be a pleasant straight-ahead guitar session, with tasteful compositions, pleasant solos and a sense of unison among the trio that is as enjoyable to chart the course of as it is to chase after the wandering soloists.
But then there’s a track like “East Village Waltz.” It doesn’t turn its back on the prevailing sound, nor does it flee from the notion of a straight-ahead jazz recording, but it undergoes a slight transformation to an expression that leans increasingly toward a folk or pop influence, and that small change results in a huge burst of texture, of colors changing like the leaves from Summer to a brand new Autumn season. And when the subsequent tracks return to a more familiar sound, they sound all the richer with the understanding of what they could be, could become, and what might happen again with the sounding of the next note.
“New York Butterfly” gets the pulse rate up, spurred on by a series of nifty flurries from drummer Blake. The rendition of Bill Evans’ “Very Early” keeps to an inside-voice, a murmur that carries far on the slightest breeze. And the album’s other cover song, “If I Should Lose You,” will make you regret that Maintz didn’t use his acoustic baritone guitar on the entire session. And, again, it’s yet another small shift that creates a big sonic reaction… while still keeping things in the sphere of a solid straight-ahead recording.
Your album personnel: Thomas Maintz (electric & acoustic baritone guitars), Scott Colley (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums).
Released in 2014 on Gateway Music.
Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Soundcloud page.
Available at: Amazon
Thomas Maintz & Aaron Parks – Duets in June
And much in the same way that the song “East Village Waltz” had a transformative effect on Present while remaining wholly in the flow of the album, the 2015 collaboration between Maintz and pianist Aaron Parks illustrates how differently things might’ve sounded had that approach been applied throughout. Duets in June share four of the same compositions as Present, including the aforementioned “East Village Waltz,” and though the changes between the two recording are relatively small in the grand scheme of things, the albums radiate two entirely different facets of the same central beauty. Where Present stuck to more familiar roads running through capital-J Jazz, Duets in June takes the scenic paths that circumnavigate Jazz center and the avenues and alleys that bypass the main thoroughfares.
The album’s high point are the three improvisational tracks (“Prelude,” “Interlude” and “Crystals”) interspersed throughout the recording. The first of those three open the album up with a powerful statement that melodicism was held in high regard during the creation of the recording, and that the obliteration of form and structure was a small price to pay to see that the melodic intent achieved its ultimate goals. “Prelude” is the soothing colors of a gorgeous sunrise combined with the queer uneasiness of the ever-changing scenery and the reminder that a new day promises new challenges and new changes of its own. That kind of emotional duality is emblematic of the entire recording, and the approach of fragmentary beauty over structural foundation are constant through each of the improvisational tracks.
A shared composition like “Nude in Red Armchair” immediately distinguishes between the two albums. Parks provides the song a greater presence with easy-going yet pronounced turns of phrase on piano, and Maintz’s use of acoustic baritone guitar opens the composition up to possibilities that extend far past the horizon line established by the same song on Present. And “Riddles Dressed in White” takes a circuitous path to the melody and a starkly contemplative tone in comparison to the up-tempo burner of Present. The two versions of “Secret Hallway” are the closest between the two recordings, but where the Present trio goes with calm brushstrokes, Maintz and Parks go about painting the song with a pointillism technique and a wild streak of happenstance relative positioning.
The album ends with the solemn “Please Hum (A Hymn),” a piece that offers up the faintest drone, the loveliest melody rolled out slowly with patience and care, and a comforting sense that all is right with the world, contrasting so nicely with the intriguing, vague unease of the opening track.
Just a gorgeous album that also comes armed with a sharp intelligence. It’s also an album that received some year-end consideration for this site’s Best of 2015 list. Go scoop it up.
Your album personnel: Thomas Maintz (guitar, soundbox) and Aaron Parks (piano, melodica).
Released in 2015 on Gateway Music.
Available at: Amazon
And here’s a cool video that incorporates the Duets in June track “Crystals/Improvisation 3″…