Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Schalk now splits his time between Los Angeles and New York. Though young, he's played and recorded with some exceptional musicians on both coasts. One of his first albums featured the late New Yorker Michael Brecker. This one includes Geoffrey Keezer, who migrated to San Diego a few years ago. Schalk is a terrific song writer, but Keezer has the soloing edge here.
Schalk's influences range from George Benson to Pat Metheny, with frequent nods to Wes Montgomery. "W46," a fleet-fingered original, is dedicated to that icon, and on it Schalk makes free use of some of Montgomery's characteristic techniques, the hard-plucked dual-string phrases for example.
All the tunes for this outing were composed by Schalk, and I agree with others who have said his songs could become jazz standards. "W46" proves the point. Without plagiarizing, it sounds like something you've heard before. The guitarist demonstrates the other end of his compositional and playing range with the tune that follows, the smooth and breezy "What Makes Me Think." The rock-solid Dave Carpenter takes a beautiful solo, one of his last recorded efforts. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this session.
"A New Something," is another on the lilting side, lyrical and romantic. Although Schalk has good chops, at this point in his career his improvisations are strongest at slower and medium tempos. Burners like the opening "Wanted" and "A Hip Bop" are taken at speeds a shade too ambitious. There's excitement, but also a few misses in inspiration and rhythmic phrasing. Keezer too is stretched at the blazing speed of "A Hip Bop."
But the pianist does swing like mad on the up-tempo tunes and matches Schalk's romanticism on other tracks. His solo on "And Harry Said Goodbye" provokes an appreciative "yeah." Drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith also enhances the proceedings at any tempo. He sticks to tasteful color in the quiet moments, emphasizing brush-work on snare and cymbal but is hyper-active on the faster tunes. The sticks come out to push and add to the frenzy.
This is a solid effort and more than worth a listen. Schalk has absorbed lessons from some of the finest players in the history of jazz guitar and is a first-rate composer. Recommended.