Brightness of Being
Paul Bollenback has proven himself a remarkably versatile guitarist over the course of an extensive sideman career. With Brightness of Being, his first album for the Elefant Dreams label and his sixth as a leader overall, he employs versatility as a kind of ethos. The result is an exuberant mishmash, in terms of both repertoire and style.
The album’s core is a sturdy rhythm section consisting of Bollenback, James Genus on bass and either Terri-Lyne Carrington or Ari Hoenig on drums. Every song but one includes a saxophonist; Tim Garland and Gary Thomas form a tag team, while David “Fathead” Newman makes what amounts to a solid cameo. The final player is Chris McNulty, whose voice adds color to some tracks and takes the lead on others.
Bollenback’s broad repertory canvas, which runs from Ray Charles to Ernesto Garcia de Leon, never upstages the ensemble’s interplay. There are occasional misfires, like a version of Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” that aims for naked emotion but ends up merely unclothed. Yet when this music fully succeeds—e.g., three variations on a theme from Puccini’s Tosca, featuring a pungent Thomas—it more justifies the conceptual stretch. Clearly, Bollenback is onto something.