The Dave Ness Trio with Friends. Grooveness. Independently produced, 2018. (daveness.net)
Dave Ness, various guitars with synth and amp
Matt Thompson, acoustic bass
Kurt Barker, drums and percussion
Vijay Tellis-Nayak, organ and production
Victor Garcia, Tim Barclay, and Matt Karnstedt, horns
When I previewed “Darkness,” the first cut on the new Dave Ness Trio album Grooveness, I figured it was a precursor for the rest of the album; it grooves along with a chugging push from producer Vijay Tellis-Nayak’s organ. So, I figured that Ness was joining the growing coterie of jazz guitarists who are back in love with the guitar/organ motif.
But, boy was I wrong-ish. Yes, Tellis-Nayak’s organ work shows up on several songs, but Ness isn’t going to be put into a corner here. We were introduced to some of his eclecticism on the Trio’s second album, Layers, and now with Tellis-Nayak’s production chops, we have full evidence of it. Basically, the multi-dimensions can be categorized three ways: with organ/and horns; straight-up; exotic-percussive. However, within each category no one piece is like another, providing a continually interesting listen.
I became aware of Tellis-Nayak’s general abilities while reviewing Frank Russell’s latest album, making him a prescient choice for this collection, where those gifts come to the fore again among the box of musical chocolates. After “Darkness,” Tellis-Nayek embellished the gospel-infused “Freedom” with a tasty horn crew of Victor Garcia on trumpet (a stand-out), Tim Barclay on tenor, and Matt Karnstedt on baritone. The horns show up again on “Full Time,” a sumptuous r&b stroll that demonstrates the versatility of Ness’s stellar trio mates, bassist Matt Thompson and drummer Kurt Barker. The neatly balanced mix highlights every player, including nice solos from Karnstedt, Ness, and Garcia.
Lest I forget, I was blown away by the synchronicity of Ness and Thompson throughout. I’m pretty sure Thompson can play anything well he is asked to, and Ness’s ability to wield his various guitars (I count seven in his liner notes) and effects is wondrous. Ness seems to be very interested in creating forms of synchronous playing (listen to the bop duet between him and Tellis-Nayak on “Wire and Wick”), but especially with Thompson; this is only possible when people have been playing together forever, like these two have. One good example is “Cigano,” a slightly Latin-ish riff recorded expertly to give each trio member his due. This cut reminded me of Larry Coryell’s partnership with Jimmy Garrison on the album Lady Coryell. Another fine example is their intricate work on “Blindsided,” where Ness takes us on a ride up and down his frets with Thompson providing a riff that suggests a foreboding mood while Barker prances around on his kit. Yet another one is the waltz-like “Library,” where the two string players play off of each other in varied paces.
Among the more percussive selections, “17 Days” is both pleasantly synchronous and the most eclectic of the collection, mostly a repeating refrain upon which Thompson is allowed to muse, demonstrating his prowess, with Ness joining in later, reversing the roles. The short “13,” two cuts later, then seems like a melodic lift off this motif, with Ness on classical guitar (I think) quickly establishing the melody before settling into something like Segovia while Thompson creates a quick statement of his own. One wishes they had done more with this nugget.
The most exotic piece, “Haphry,” also establishes Thompson as a wonder. The mood is set by an African-ish swinging riff provided by Barker on a stringed instrument accompanied by Thompson. Ness joins into a stringed conversation with Thompson, who moves from riff to synchronicity until the music takes off into a dance circle. Ness steps in first, Barker next, then Thompson, with his most energetic contribution. The quiet joy and sophistication of this presentation is a highlight.
On Grooveness, Dave Ness, Matt Thompson, and Kurt Barker certify their presence as a formidable unit whose talents are brilliantly displayed throughout via Tellis-Nayak’s warm and wise production. No one’s time or money will be wasted on it.