May , 2012
Review by Daniel Backer
Label: Abstract Logix Records
Howie 61, released through Abstract Logix, offers an accessible listening experience to jazz-fusion king Wayne Krantz's unique sound. Krantz employs simple song structures and minimal use of effects. In keeping with the feel of his last album, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre, Krantz continues to explore lyrical, groove-based songs, a departure from the shred-heavy, seven-minute epics that characterized his early work.
Krantz's simpler sound shows that he's trying to appeal to an audience other than guitarists. Shredding is certainly impressive, but Krantz would rather take the listener on a ride of ethereal moods. The album begins with the title track, a straightforward groove colored with jazz chords and a few guitar fills. The album proceeds with this formula, but there are notable moments that make Howie 61 dynamic. "I'm Afraid That I'm Dead" is an eerie march composed of soft pulsing piano with odd digital noise on top. This track breaks up the album's feel and keeps the listener interested. "U Strip It" contains chants reminiscent of Devo's "Whip It" and escalates into a great saxophone solo. These moments show Krantz's compositional prowess.
The only three guitar solos are tasteful and accessible. Krantz's restraint shows his true mastery of the fret board. He resists gimmicky flourishes and lets the notes speak for themselves. "Can't Stand to Rock" has the most interesting guitar solo on the album as it parodies conventional rock solos before stepping into weirder jazz phrases. While none of the solos are fast, each is unique and full of emotion.
Krantz's conversational lyrics begin almost immediately after the albums starts. No long-winded intro. Krantz gets to the point. His inflective vocals sound like a friend relaying a story. They are concise and unpretentious. However, Krantz still has fun. "Son of a Scientist" showcases word play and seems to explicitly state the thesis for the album as he whispers "Sensitivity, compatibility, authenticity…" and more words that end in i-t-y than I knew existed. Further, Krantz's lyrical focus separates him from most other jazz-fusion artists. He does not feel the need to hide behind overly technical fretwork or spacey effects. His lyrics demonstrate that he wanted an album of accessible songs.
This might repel fans of Krantz's early work. The album could use a face-melter or two to remind listeners that they are dealing with a guitar virtuoso. Also, there is little variety of tempo and sustained notes making some grooves feel redundant. On the whole, Howie 61 has a refreshing perspective on jazz-fusion and showcases Krantz's mature songwriting, but it lacks the intensity on his earlier work.