"All of the numerous musicians that have worked with Bruce will tell you he's a monster."
- Bob Blumenthal, Boston Globe
Bruce Gertz Quintet with Jerry Bergonzi, Phil Grenadier, Gabriel Guerrero and Austin McMahon
Featuring: Jerry Bergonzi, tenor sax
Phil Grenadier, trumpet
Gabriel Guerrero, piano
Austin McMahon, drums
In jazz, as in many things, how one achieves a high profile is determined as much by geography and luck of the draw as by anything else. Consider the bass player Bruce Gertz. Although heís known throughout the U.S. and has some following worldwide, his name doesnít show up in the polls, he's not a featured performer at festivals and heís not signed to a major label. Still, itís apparent from the first track of Open Mind that Gertz belongs in the front rank of contemporary bassists, unquestionably the equal of more celebrated NYC counterparts. Heís got solid but flexible time, a deep, warm tone and a sophisticated harmonic foundation. Heís capable of pushing a group, but he's also a good team player. For Open Mind, he has assembled a heavy-duty crew of peers, players whose language is largely based around the best of 1960s modal mainstream (think Blue Note Records generally, and maybe Wayne Shorter specifically), but with ears for where jazz has come since then.
Probably the most high-profile player here is tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, a schooled veteran with an impressive pedigree. Bergonzi plays hard (coming mostly out of mid-Coltrane), and requires a rhythm section that doesnít flag under the intensity of his attack. The album starts with "Eighty Eight," a tune in 11/8 (or alternating 6/8 and 5/8, take your pick) over a vaguely rock-tinged vamp. Itís engaging and easy to listen to, and has plenty of substance. The band stays in funk and vamp territory at the start of "Glad Youíre Hear," then alternates that with straight-ahead time. Bergonzi is fluent and full-toned, pianist Gabriel Guerrero is relaxed and totally locked into the rest of the rhythm section. Gertz has a knack for holding down the fort while interjecting provocative commentary. His solo is assured and melodically inventive. The Miles-ish title track (based on the chord changes of Cole Porterís "I Love You") features a fluent, optimistic solo by trumpeter Phil Grenadier. He's a fascinating player. Entirely versed in the styles of his predecessors (Miles and Freddie Hubbard show up), he adds quirky, intelligent note choices that will leave you guessing - and impressed. Bergonzi continues the Miles thread with a finger busting solo that references Wayne Shorter, but is anything but a slavish imitation.
I'm assuming that "Outer Urge" pays homage to saxophonist Joe Hendersonís "Inner Urge," but it's less feverish. It starts with an unusual drum solo with bass accompaniment. Austin McMahon effectively and efficiently makes himself heard here, his playing a winning blend of concision and imagination. The heartfelt "For Gwen," with its lyrical voicing for tenor and trumpet closes the album. Guerrero, Gertz and McMahon lead off with an elegant trio exposition. Grenadier joins, again adding an irrepressible lightness to the ensemble. Bergonzi brings more muscle to his solo, but balances it perfectly with the delicacy of the composition. Back to the engaging theme, and out. It would be a shame if Open Mind stays under the radar. It's an album deserving of careful attention - challenging enough for listeners who like to dig into a project, but immediately accessible to anyone who just wants to hear an hour of superb contemporary jazz.