Mr. Wittner’s release is a good mix of guitar trio, Latin, ballads, Monk tunes, and even showcases both tuba and contra-bass clarinet. His arrangements are well thought-out; he is clearly conscious of the timbre of each instrument and the role they are able to play in the ensemble. For instance, the tuba is relegated mostly to ostinato lines and solos. On "Cloud Cover" the tuba plays the head, and then continues the melody as an ostinato underneath the solos. Also, "Faster, Smaller, Cheaper, Better" is a funky melody intermingled with free-form. The clarinet is similarly utilized. However, Howard Johnson (who plays both tuba and contra-bass clarinet) seems more comfortable and has more technical skill on the contra-bass clarinet, and is able to provide more interesting solos with the latter instrument. Contrastingly, the tuba has a slight lumbering feel and provides a slightly stilted swing feeling.
The most remarkable aspect of Mr. Wittner’s playing and writing is the harmonic complexity of both his tunes and his solos. It becomes apparent immediately with "Now We’re Here" that he is intelligent about harmonic progressions and tonal centers. Utilizing assorted scales and chords, he provides a truly exciting and interesting listening experience for the attuned jazz ear. This shines forth particularly well on the medley of "My Country ‘tis of Thee/We Shall Overcome". This tune is solo guitar and the complexity of Mr. Wittner’s mind is evident. He provides not only harmonic movement, but within that also is able to supply contrapuntal lines under the melody. Unfortunately, elsewhere on the album his melodies suffer because of his harmonic approach. They simply are not memorable. It is a matter of form versus function. Although they make wonderful sense from an harmonic approach, they simply do not provide the "catch" that invokes the listener to listen intently. This is particularly obvious on the Latin ballad, "Lonely Holiday".
The guitar and drums often lack intensity in their playing. Although they provide speed and volume dynamically, there is a distinct absence when the tune builds. This could be due to several reasons. The first is that the band may not be together as much as one would like. The second is the possibility that their technique is simply not up to standard. The final, which I believe is most likely, is that the mixing on the CD is lacking technically. Further evidence is that the bass instruments (tuba, acoustic bass, contra-bass clarinet) are heard clearly and distinctly (in some instances the tuba is actually heard above the soloist. Finally, there is a passage in "Four in One" that the pressing of the keys on the contra-bass clarinet can be heard. Unfortunately, the album notes do not provide information pertaining to where the album was mixed or recorded.
Altogether, Now We’re Here is an above-average recording with slight diversions here and there. But Gary Wittner should be proud of his latest release as an album of musical intelligence and philosophical savvy.