Album review

Michael Feinberg – ‘Blues Variant’ (also live at Vortex 26 May)

Michael Feinberg, Dave Liebman, Nasheet Waits, Leo Genovese & Noah Preminger

(Criss Cross Jazz 1413 – album review by Charles Rees)

35-year-old American bassist Michael Feinberg has been active as a leader of his own projects for most of a decade – putting out records featuring all-star players like George Garzone and Billy Hart. His latest release, Blues Variant showcases a line-up consisting of Nasheet Waits (drums), Leo Genovese (piano) and Noah Preminger (tenor sax/flute), as well as featuring Dave Liebman on three tracks.

Feinberg’s own compositions – seven of the ten tracks here – are all compelling, well-crafted, mature pieces of writing. They are presented as quite short tracks which affords Blues Variant an ever-present momentum that carries throughout its duration. The earlier tracks on the album are quite intense, weighty statements. Perhaps a ballad could have helped to break up and lighten up that atmosphere, spreading those energetic and forceful numbers more evenly throughout the album:

The gentler compositions, such as Feinberg’s beautiful “The Water Spirit Brought Us, The Water Spirit Will Take Us Home”, are worth waiting for, however. Another track that does bring real contrast is “Improvisation (for Leslie)”, in which Feinberg opts for solo bass and improvises a melody that evokes the sound of early American/Irish folk songs like “Shenandoah”. This is the one point during the album where the bass is front and centre, and all the more welcome for it.

The stand-out track here is Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane”. The two-horn head arrangement (Liebman & Preminger) is superb, and Genovese’s beautiful chord voicings also deserve a mention. Talking of Herbie Hancock, while Blues Variant is not overtly dedicated to anyone in particular, there seems to be a Herbie theme running through some of the tracks. Maybe it’s the Fender Rhodes, but Genovese’s “The Healing Power of Grits” and Feinberg’s “Cycle Song” both do sound like nods to 70s Herbie, albeit much less produced. “Cycle Song” also affords Feinberg the opportunity to demonstrate his chops on electric bass.

As mentioned, Feinberg’s bass is rarely at the centre of the music on this album. This was intentional: “If you want to hear me solo, come to a gig, where I often play a solo on every tune”, he says in the liner notes. Good news for UK audiences – the follow-up tour for Blues Variant will see him stop by Vortex for a night on 26 May. Preminger will also be on the gig, with the two joined by Eden Ladin on piano and Terreon Gully on drums.

Booking link for Michael Feinberg – “Blues Variant” at Vortex on Friday, 26 May

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