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Friday, November 02, 2018

CD Review: Brad Whiteley - Presence

Brad Whiteley (Piano); Matt Pavolka (Bass); Kenneth Salters (Drums); Tom Guarna (Guitar); Michael Eaton (Saxophone).
(Review by Max Goodall)
From New Yorker Brad Whiteley comes an album of great contrasts. Whiteley has for a long time enjoyed working within a number of different styles and musical contexts. Always open to getting involved in new interesting projects; the last few years have seen him appear as (amongst other things) keyboardist in the pit band of the Broadway musical Avenue Q, Musical Director and Organist of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx, Keyboardist with the Regina Spektor Band and composer for PBS Learning Matter show School Sleuth

In the follow up to his debut album as bandleader (Pathless Land – released in 2014) he draws on many of these contexts in separation.

The album opens with the bold, brash, 7/8 romp of Dusk; with its jagged and repetitive unison lines in guitar and bass. The tune has an excellent sense of light and shade, resolving in a lovely moment of clarity, before running headlong back into the established groove.

However, this rock-influenced tune is far from representative of the album’s whole. I mentioned different musical spheres appearing in isolation. Well, across the rest of the album we get snatches of free (Dawn), GoGo Penguin-esque modern pop-influenced ideas (The Unwinding) and more classic, albeit intelligently constructed, swingers (Sunset Park).

This illustrates Whiteley’s range as a composer. His intelligent use of time and tempo changes in, for example, Sinking Feeling are hugely effective. Moreover, he simultaneously displays a sensitive touch in the album’s title track. Despite this though, on Presence, it is his 11 original compositions which take centre stage.  While his playing is at times very enjoyable and fiercely proficient, he is occasionally out-shone by his band members. For example, Michael Eaton’s equal-parts scintillating, and chaotic playing on Sinking Feeling, evoke a sense of disintegration as alluded to by the track’s title.

My only significant criticism of Whiteley’s writing is that his taste for free breakdowns, in both time and structure, seem to yearn to resolve back into a tune and a re-establishment of order: a yearning which is regularly frustrated. Ultimately, however, this is a greatly enjoyable album. Stand-out tracks include Dusk, Sunset Park and Presence. Its eclecticism in a way allows it to become an album suitable for almost any taste.
Max.
Presence was released on Destiny Records on Oct. 5.

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