There are many adjectives that spring to mind while listening to guitarist Paul Bollenback and company on Invocation, though three words—soulful, sophisticated and spiritual—keep rising to the top of the list.
The self-penned opener “Dancing Leaf,” distinguished by harmonized guitar and trumpet lines, hip chordal movement and a blend of chromatic tacks and bluesy inflections, not only sets the mood; it reminds us that Bollenback has always been capable of presenting his soul-jazz influences in a thoroughly modern context when the tune called for it. And that’s often the case on this release, Bollenback’s seventh solo recording.
As the album unfolds, other aspects of his talents as a player, composer and arranger come into sharp focus. The two-part title track, an original composition, makes imaginative use of Chris McNulty’s wordless vocals and trumpeter Randy Brecker’s flair for infusing improvisations with both lyricism and drama. How does a guitarist turn a tune as overworked as “Everything Must Change” into something fresh and haunting? Bollenback’s interpretation, with its subtle nods to George Benson and Wes Montgomery, is a textbook example. Not to be overlooked, too, are the arrangements of pieces by James Williams and John Coltrane. The former is saluted with a sleek arrangement of “Alter Ego,” complete with segueing vocal, trumpet and guitar parts, neatly underpinned by bassist Ed Howard and drummer Victor Lewis. Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” played in free time and accented by Lewis’ showering cymbals, brings the album to a wonderfully evocative close.