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B.D. Lenz: Five & Live

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The music of New Jersey-based guitarist B.D. Lenz has been licensed to more than 100 television shows internationally, so listeners are more likely to have heard his music through flatscreen speakers than on his seven studio CDs. But while TV provides artists with earning potential, it’s not exactly known for engendering creativity, which makes for a double-edged sword that cuts to the core of Lenz’s latest release, Five & Live. The concert CD features tracks requested by fans on Lenz’s website (including four covers), but even many of the guitarist’s originals have a ring of borrowed familiarity.

Take the opening “Uh Huh,” which features creative call and response between Lenz and saxophonist Geoff Mattoon that’s watered down by the track’s pedestrian funk gait. The faster “Smooth Sailing” sounds like an instrumental collage of Don Henley tunes; the 6/8-timed “Bridges” is the kind of syrupy fusion that ends up on the Weather Channel; and the previously unrecorded “Brother, You Will Know” is a ballad that echoes Spyro Gyra. Only “Juxtaposition,” featuring compelling work by bassist James Rosocha and a wind-controller solo by Mattoon, and “Fi’Fo’,” anchored by keyboardist Dan Paul and drummer Tom Cottone, have any bite.

Among the covers, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 2)” gets a predictable reading in which Mattoon plays the vocal melody, and Curtis Mayfield’s gospel-tinged “People Get Ready” sounds like an attempt at the instrumental version Jeff Beck currently performs in concert. Likewise, Stevie Wonder’s funk staple “Superstition” resembles a vocal-free recitation of the Stevie Ray Vaughan concert gem. Listening to Five & Live is akin to hearing a great late-night-TV band: You’ll hear great playing but you’ll feel, literally or figuratively, like you’ve heard it all before.

Originally Published