When thinking of younger guitarists making a difference, names that seem to crop up often are Rosenwinkel, Monder and Rogers. Undeniably fine guitarists all, but add Jonathan Kreisberg to that list. New for Now (Criss Cross, 2005), demonstrated Kreisberg's successfully transition from his early days as a prog-rocker and fusion-meister to modern mainstreamer, while Unearth (Mel Bay, 2005) made clear his imaginative compositional skills, blending cerebralism with a grounded, visceral edge. The South of Everywhere continues Kreisberg's evolution on a set of primarily original music, played by a group of musicians with whom Kreisberg has intersected over the past few years.
Gary Versace played organ on New for Now, and he's been garnering a strong reputation on that instrument with others, including guitarists Rez Abbasi and John Abercrombie. Here, however, he's heard on piano and he's every bit as distinctive. Drummer Mark Ferber, another increasingly ubiquitous player, is also back from New for Now, meshing beautifully with Unearth bassist Matt Penman. Least-known is British-born/New York-based saxophonist Will Vinson, a young player who has yet to follow up his impressive debut, It's for You (Sirocco, 2004), though his playing here only makes that more of a shame.
Kreisberg combines subtle processing with a largely warm-toned hollow body electric, positioning him in similar territory as his contemporaries but with enough variance to remain identifiable. But while tone is one differentiator, it's his long, lyrical themes that set him apart, even when he's created a complex foundation over which to layer them. The irregular-metered title track moves ahead with organic forward motion thanks to Penman and Ferber's synchronistic playing, all the more remarkable during Kreisberg's solo, where they lock in with Versace's empathic support. Kreisberg's solo develops with the kind of focused inevitability that doesn't detract from its inherent spontaneity, while Versace pushes the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of the guitarist's writing to unpredictable extremes.
Vinson doesn't take his first solo until Kreisberg's "Strange Resolution, where a comfortable mid-tempo swing belies some unexpected harmonic movement and a quirky yet memorable theme. Vinson navigates the tune's structure with ease, finding common melodic elements to tie together Kreisberg's challenging changes. His cathartic solo on the more aggressively toned and longer-form "Funeral for the Ants, where Kreisberg adopts a jagged and distorted tone, is no less impressive.
"Elena is a dark-hued, John Abercrombie-tinged ballad, while the more forceful "Altered Ego is a clever mix of the angular and the melodic. But it's "Kiitos that perhaps best represents Kreisberg's growth as a writer and player. It is a cued rubato piece hinting at a freer direction, but that ultimately resolves into an arpeggiated end section before leading into a gritty and energetic solo from Kreisberg that's an album high point.
For those who already know Kreisberg as someone to watch, The South of Everywhere is further affirmation; for the uninitiated, it's the perfect entry point for a guitarist who's growing in leaps and bounds.
Personnel: Jonathan Kreisberg: guitar; Matt Penman: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Gary Versace: piano; Will Vinson: alto sax.