Guitarist Frank Kohl Quartet - "Rising Tide"
Rising Tide is Frank Kohl's fourth album as leader, and finds the Seattle-based guitarist slinging an especially contemplative vintage of swing. This time he is joined by his New York City quartet of bassist Steve LaSpina, pianist (and brother) Tom Kohl, and drummer Jon Doty. As Steve Griggs of Earshot Magazine wrote of his last album, Invisible Man, "While Kohl has clearly mastered technique, his guitar solos sing true with room for breath and emotion." These sentiments are nowhere truer than on Rising Tide, guaranteeing a truly welcoming experience.
To that end, Rising Tide opens with two original grooves: Rock and Roll and the title track. The former makes for some of the album's smoothest sailing, while Rising Tide eddies and whirls in its own unique way. Both showcase the bandleader at the height of his compositional powers, expressed in a playing style that is equal parts declaration and implication. Kohl's wheelhouse is his balladry, which finds ample proof in the sweeter inflections of With Tears of Joy and Richman Poorman. Both are emblematic products of a keen melodician, highlighting the artisanal sound that Kohl painstakingly elicits from his instrument.
Not to be ignored, however, are the contributions of his top-flight sidemen, who from their treasure hunt through Victor Young's Love Letters emerge with sensitive rewards. My Romance (Rodgers and Hart), for its part, showcases the rhythm section's effervescent synergy. Like a hot cup of mulled cider on a winter's evening, it goes down smooth and warms from within, emboldened by a hint of spice: exactly the kind of nostalgia we need in the impending season. Between these standards, Late Night, another Kohl original, shows the band at its interlocking best. Here one gets the nimble improvising of LaSpina, brother Kohl's delicate pianism, and Doty's effortless exchanges. As with each Kohl-penned tune, the title almost suggests itself, whispered like a premonition over the waters of his creative spirit.
A solo take on the Victor Young classic, Beautiful Love, closes out the set with barest essentials. The title perfectly describes the depth of Kohl's playing, which in its unaccompanied state embraces us as we are.
Kohl's music has all the makings of classic territory, and this album is its ideal topography. Each melody blossoms with a formal yet spontaneous sound built upon heartfelt foundations and quality rapport. To many musicians, smooth exteriors and genuinely emotional interiors make for a difficult balance. In Kohl's hands, however, such equilibrium feels as inevitable as the music.
The tide may be rising, but on this album's platform Kohl is riding his way into continued success.
There's so much in life, and in this world, that makes us feel so many things so deeply, and that's where I want to be. That's why I play music.
Jazz guitarist Frank Kohl's roots go back to the New York City metropolitan area, where, though not born into a musical family, he grew into one as the years went by. As an artist who always keeps a foot in the door of the past, Kohl understands the value of precedence. One need look only so far as the 1960s to identify the seeds of his craft, when the Beatles activated his interest in playing guitar. As training progressed, so did his musical tastes, giving way to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and the blues. But it was his encounter with Wes Montgomery, particularly the landmark Verve sessions with organist Jimmy Smith, that set Kohl's sights on jazz. George Benson, Pat Martino, and Jim Hall cemented his commitment to the genre, as did his involvement in an award-winning high school jazz big band. It was around this time that he saw the Tony Williams Lifetime, with John McLaughlin and Larry Young. "My idea of what jazz was forever changed, " Kohl recalls. "I knew then that anything was possible in jazz." Kohl also frequented a club called Rapsins, known for its legendary jam sessions of such cutting-edge talents as guitarist Linc Chamberland, bassist Lyn Christie, and saxophonist Dave Liebman. Kohl would go on to become Chamberland's student, and before long was sharing stages with veterans of his cohort.
Between 1972 and 1976, Kohl studied at the Berklee College of Music during a golden age of the school's matriculation, when John Scofield and Pat Metheny were still students. After graduating with honors, stepping out from under the wings of Gary Burton and Steve Swallow, Kohl built his professional résumé in and around the City—playing with Lyn Christie, among others—and was starting to write original music. Though indebted to the histories that moved him, Kohl was also intent on asserting his own voice. Hence, his first record, 1981's Reform, with famed bassist Michael Moore (of Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck fame). In 1983 Kohl moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and held an eight-year stint in vibraphonist Don McCaslin's band Warmth. Kohl then moved to Seattle, where he has since become a fixture of the local scene and can be seen headlining Tula's, Boxley's, Egan's, and The Jazz Station with such talents as pianists Bill Anschell and John Hansen, bassists Jeff Johnson and Steve Luceno, drummers Matt Jorgenson and Greg Williamson, and guitarist John Stowell. Frank regularly returns to NYC, recording and performing at Smalls, the Metropolitan Room, and BeanRunner Cafe, and working with, among others, pianist (and brother) Tom Kohl, bassists Steve Roane and Steve LaSpina, and drummer Jon Doty.
Kohl earned praised from Cadence Magazine, All About Jazz, and guitarist Mike Stern for his second album, Coast to Coast, in 2008, prompting Travis Rogers Jr. of JazzTimes to proclaim, "He is set to be well recognized for his splendid composition and artistry. His talent and craftsmanship make him imminently worthy of notoriety. His focus on the music instead of the musician makes him a cherished artist." And in 2013 he recorded his third CD, Invisible Man, for which he recruited the talents of stalwart bassist Steve LaSpina. This year has been an especially fruitful one for Kohl, who releases his fourth album, Rising Tide, following a successful appearance at Seattle's Earshot Jazz Festival. A blend of standards and original tunes, Rising Tide confirms his ongoing allegiance to musical freedom.
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