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Turn of Phrase-- Paul Kogut

Paul Kogut's outstanding third CD, a trio date with the unbeatable rhythm team of George Mraz and Lewis Nash, will hopefully generate wider recognition for this polished guitarist. Kogut plays with secure confidence and a pristine, mellow sound that has been recently enhanced thanks to his decision to switch from guitar pick to thumb. He was raised in the Utica, NY area, where he studied with Carmen Caramanica. Later teachers included Pat Martino and Mick Goodrick, and Kogut has himself taught at his alma mater, Hamilton College. Over the years he has spent quality time performing primarily in Boston, New York, and Chicago. Lovers of jazz guitar owe it to themselves to hear this CD.

"So That Happened" is Kogut's clever reworking of "It Could Happen to You." It sparkles with his lucid, crisp, and flowing phrasings and a tone that may recall Jim Hall or John Abercrombie. Mraz solos with consummate authority and articulation. The slippery, winding melody of his "About You" suits Kogut's approach to a tee. The nuanced accents, harmonies, and rhythmic variations of his improvisation combine for a tantalizing listen. The exceptionally consistent Mraz delivers another impressive solo, and Nash's drum work is deft and stimulating. At about the six-minute mark, Kogut suprisingly begins wailing with a more piercing sound, only to revert back to his more refined true(?) self at the close a minute later. "Know It? I Wrote It?" was first heard on Kogut's 2005 organ trio debut CD by that title. A catchy rhythmic hook somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Harris' "Listen Here" lays the foundation for this new funky treatment. The leader is penetratingly soulful, and Nash engagingly assertive, with Mraz keeping things well-grounded just as an organist might have done.

The "Wayne Shorter Solo Medley" is Kogut's eight-minute vibrant solo acoustic guitar exploration of several Shorter tunes, starting with "Fe FI Fo Fum" and then a tender recital of "Infant Eyes." Eloquently melodic and harmonically sophisticated, Kogut takes his time with the apparent intention being to emphasize and draw out the immense beauty of these works, which he succeeds impressively in doing. "Back-Woods Song / Ramblin'" commences with the theme of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'" but interjects elements of Dave Holland's "Back-Woods Song," while Mraz and Nash generate a hearty pulse that borrows from both compositions. Kogut's solo is an absorbing gem that resoundingly sings of both the blues and back country roads. The incomparable Mraz is not to be outdone, constructing an equally boisterous and communicative solo. Kogut's "Especially When It Rains," despite its title, is sunny and uplifting. The guitarist, as he did on "About You," ups the reverb and hence the impact of his ceaselessly inventive improv. Mraz again shines in his melodically expressive follow-up. Nash is the epitome of taste and finesse here as always.

"Turn of Phrase" is a deceptively simple, infectious Kogut theme that offers more than enough substance for this trio to expand upon. Kogut hop, skip, and jumps through a striving, harmonically rich and bluesy solo, propelled insistently by Nash. The bassist responds with a deliberate, deep-toned excursion that never loses its focus. "Blue In Green" is given a guitar and drums interpretation that dances restlessly and imaginatively around the well-known melody for five minutes without fully stating it. Nash's cymbal work is exquisite and striking, and when Kogut finally delicately states the theme at the end it provides the listener with a very satisfying release.

Kogut's is luminous on an over nine-minute duet version of the never stale standard "Body and Soul." His and Mraz's solos are compelling, with the bassist more straightforwardly lyrical than the unpredictably tangential but never less than logical Kogut. Mraz's comping for Kogut, and his coda at the very tail end of the guitarist's reprise, are masterful. Kogut's fascinating, harmonically adventurous intro to "Days of Wine and Roses" leads to more of the same after he plays the melody, except the rubato opening is now replaced by the trio's driving momentum, as you listen in anticipation of the guitarist's next inspired move. Mraz creatively recasts the theme in his resolute solo, and then Kogut and Nash exchange sharp-witted passages. Drummer Tony Williams' "Sister Cheryl" is fittingly introduced by Nash's declarative and commanding statement. The ensuing "Poinciana"-like rhythm groove carries Kogut through the alluring theme and onto his persuasive improv, which throbs with a relaxed determination.

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Scott Albin