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Thought Lines by Steve Herberman

Chances are, you may not have heard of Steve Herberman. But you should. For Herberman, on his debut CD, shows a technical proficiency and feeling for the music that one would expect only from the highest levels of jazz musicians. Instead, Herberman resides and works outside of Washington D.C., which admittedly has its own jazz scene consisting of the likes of Keter Betts, Buck Hill and Shirley Horn. The jazz press perks up its ears, though, most often when a musician moves to New York and struggles, performing at low-paying gigs for the chance to record on a major label, rather than teaching jazz on a full-time basis at Towson University, as does Herberman.

Thought Lines, presents Herberman as a guitarist with absolute command of his instrument and one who marvels at its sound. Rather than using the more conventional six-string guitar, Herberman follows in the footsteps of George Van Eps and Bucky Pizzarelli in using the seventh string for filling out the lower end of the sonic spectrum and for adding simulated bass lines as necessary.

More than that, though, Herberman combines a lushness of sound with the offsetting reassurance of soundlessness, well-placed rests confidently accenting the logically crafted melodies that Herberman develops. His attention to the total beauty of the instrument’s voice is consistent with that of a Joe Pass or Kenny Burrell, and Herberman offers a confidence that puts the listener at ease, even on the most difficult tunes on the CD like Monk’s "Criss Cross."

Herberman has recorded with equally mature musicians who turn their attention to the sound of the group, rather than stressing unbounded individuality. Tenor saxophonist Bruce Swaim actually modifies his tone, depending on the concept of the group’s approach to a tune. Swaim’s angular and upper-register work on "Criss Cross," tuned to play with Herberman as if as one instrument, on the initial melody, contrasts with his use of the lower notes, gravelly and bluesy, on the staggered and swagging "A Smooth One," slowed to a challenging groove like Basie’s arrangement of "Li’l Darlin’." And yet, beyond guitar and horn, bassist Victor Dvoskin and drummer Dominic Smith connect the dots, fill in the implications, created by Herberman and Swaim. Dvoskin’s solos establish him as an equal within the group through well-constructed solos exhibiting a mastery of the instrument. Particularly on Herberman’s minor-keyed waltz, "Thought Lines" (on which again Swaim adapts the tone of his instrument into a thinner quality at consistent volume for minimalistic effect), Dvoskin takes the essential characteristics of the tune and scampers with them. Even when the guitar and/or sax are in the lead, Dvoskin’s presence is felt with solidity and respect for his fellow musicians.

But Herberman’s presence is the one that shapes the album, from his insightful arrangement of "I Wish I Knew" with its stretched-out and pulsating long tones to the finger-snapping swing of "Jeannine" with rewarding choruses of improvisation, as pleasing for the listener as it must have been for the musicians. Not only does Herberman build his solos to exciting conclusions through the movement of single lines, but also on a sublimely interpreted ballad like "Laura," with its unique harmonies, Herberman lets us know through cascades of notes or aptly placed chords that he has tapped into the infinite richness of the guitar. With Thought Lines, Steve Herberman has recorded on his first CD the sound that many guitarists would have spent years trying to achieve.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Herberman
  • CD Title: Thought Lines
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Reach Music
  • Tracks: I Wish I Knew, Thought Lines, Nobody Else But Me, A Smooth One, Criss Cross, Laura, Scurryin’, Scooter’s Blues, Jeannine, Extended Cruise, Isfahan
  • Musicians: Steve Herberman (guitar), Bruce Swaim (tenor saxophone), Victor Dvoskin (bass), Dominic Smith (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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