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Jonathan Kreisberg: Unearth

It’s little wonder that Mel Bay’s Guitar Sessions label would follow a disc by the acclaimed Vic Juris with one by Jonathan Kreisberg, a guitarist with a similarly hazy tone and solid command of the postbop style. Leading a quintet for the first time on disc, Kreisberg uses the group on Unearth to explore the cerebral realm of postbop made popular by Miles Davis’ 1960s quintet. The eight Kreisberg originals challenge the frontline–trumpeter Scott Wendholt and pianist Aaron Goldberg, plus Kreisberg–with plenty of fast-paced, chops-testing material as well as more pensive, balladic fare. Everyone plays with brilliance, but the music on Unearth feels too put together to surprise, and Kreisberg sounds more hemmed in than freed by the context, thus he never builds to the satisfying peaks he’s capable of reaching.

For now it seems like the best group for Kreisberg to lead is a trio. On New for Now Kreisberg employs organist Gary Versace and drummer Mark Ferber to explore an eight-song set split between originals and recognizable melodies like Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and Monk’s “Ask Me Now.” This is far from a groovy organ-trio sound, with Versace playing with very much the same sort of nebulous approach to melody that is Kreisberg’s signature. Even as the musicians work the tried-and-true trading of solos, they find ways to punctuate each other’s statements–Versace seems especially tuned in to the leader’s intentions, more often than not adding just the right bit of reactionary percolation or purr. Like with Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart on his last Criss Cross album, Nine Stories Wide, Kreisberg has found another pair of kindred spirits.

Originally Published