A solo performance represents the most intimate communion between an artist and their instrument. The title of guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg's first solo album, ONE, succinctly expresses that idea. "I've played in many group situations and with some legends of jazz and other idioms... but it wasn't until now that I really felt ready to document what I've been doing in a solo setting. For that, I had to feel at one with the guitar."
While most of his time is spent on tour with his dynamic Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet and alongside Hammond B3 organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith, in a far more intimate setting he began noticing an entirely different alchemy. The idea for this recording came to Kreisberg upon the realization that his playing reached a uniquely expressive level when playing solo in more intimate concert environments, or even casually at home for friends.
"There's something about connecting with just one or two people who are really listening to you in a solo setting that's totally different than playing for an audience," Kreisberg says. "It's a more intense connection, and it brings a different energy. I wanted to try to capture that feeling. I didn't want it to sound like you were in a huge hall in front of hundreds of people. I wanted it to sound like you were sitting in front of me, like you could hear the strings and the pick and my breathing - all of the life of the guitar."
To achieve that effect, Kreisberg recorded ONE without using overdubs, loops, or extra tracks. "The music making establishment uses so much technology these days that the idea of the instrumentalist is becoming marginalized," he says. "On the purest level, I wanted this to be an instrumentalist's record."
The end result is a collection that offers a wide-ranging overview of Kreisberg's approach to the solo guitar, diverse in style and feel but emotionally cohesive. From the overcast passion of Baden Powell's "Canto de Ossanha" to the silky acoustic elegance of "Skylark," the fragile spirituality of "Hallelujah" to the sci-fi abstractions of "Escape From Lower Formant Shift" - each piece offers a new perspective while maintaining a profound intimacy.
Kreisberg traces his relationship with the solo guitar back to his earliest days with the instrument. As a young guitar student, he found his connection not through mastering the basics or exploring other composer's work, but through his own private inventions. "Very early on, I was drawn to just playing the guitar for hours," he recalls. "I was supposed to be practicing scales and reading melodies from books, but I was drawn more towards creating things. I wasn't thinking about whether I was improvising or composing at that point; I was just making things up."
That penchant for spontaneity naturally guided Kreisberg to focus on jazz, though his music continues to fold in elements from a variety of other genres - ONE delves into folk, rock, classical, and even film scores for its material and sound; but in his earliest days, improvisation took a decided prominence. "Whenever I would play classical concerts I was terrified because the idea of just locking myself into playing something exact didn't feel right. It gave me too much time to think; I would just be sitting there watching my hands move, but the second I was improvising I would forget completely where I was, who I was, and just be in that moment."
After becoming a first-call guitarist in his hometown of Miami, where he also formed the first version of his trio and performed contemporary classical works with Michael Tilson Thomas' New World Symphony, Kreisberg moved back to the place where he was born, New York City, in his early twenties. An unknown on that demanding scene, he returned to the solo guitar, taking gigs in bars and restaurants until he could establish his bona fides.
But solo performance faded into the background as he became more established, playing with the likes of drummer Ari Hoenig and vibraphonist Joe Locke and establishing his ongoing relationship with Dr. Lonnie Smith. He also made several critically acclaimed recordings with his own bands, typically sharing the frontline with saxophonist Will Vinson and featuring a host of the city's most creative musicians, including pianists Aaron Goldberg, Gary Versace and Henry Hey; bassists Larry Grenadier and Matt Penman; and drummers Bill Stewart and Mark Ferber.
ONE is therefore a means to reestablish his one-on-one connection with the instrument. "This album is about falling back in love with the guitar," Kreisberg says. "It's really rewarding when you can find new ways to do things within what a supposedly limiting instrument can do. So I wanted to address different aspects of the guitar and apply that to different styles of music."
That spirit flows throughout the recording. There are unique takes on familiar themes like "Summertime" and "Caravan", respectful new readings of living poets Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Wayne Shorter's "E.S.P.", and a pair of completely improvised pieces: the aforementioned "Escape From Lower Formant Shift," (which he envisioned as the soundtrack to a science fiction thriller a la Blade Runner); and "Without Shadow" (a nod to the title track of his group's most recent album, Shadowless), where his guitar takes on the sound of an organ, a nod to Dr. Lonnie Smith.
"Lonnie inspires me a lot. He's someone who really reinforces the beliefs I already had. I feel like Lonnie is my musical godfather - both of us have an instinct for searching out new sounds, which can be a little A.D.D., but if you use it the right way it can create really dynamic recordings and performances," says Kreisberg. "I think before I played with Lonnie I might not have made some of the choices that I made on this record. I think that the end result is a complete experience for the listener."
Perhaps the most relevant lesson in terms of ONE is that it only takes a singular voice to unite a wildly diverse sonic palette. "There's a way to have very varied material, but if it all goes through one particular creative person's prism it's refracted in a way that it all becomes part of the same vision."
ONE Personnel & Track Listing:
Jonathan Kreisberg / guitar
1. Canto de Ossanha (Baden Powell & Vinicius de Moraes) - 5:11
2. Summertime (George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward) - 6:02
3. Without Shadow (Jonathan Kreisberg) - 1:22
4. Skylark (Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer) - 5:23
5. Caravan (Juan Tizol) - 5:05
6. Tenderly (Walter Lloyd) - 2:02
7. My Favorite Things (Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein) - 4:05
8. Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) - 5:27
9. E.S.P. (Wayne Shorter) - 4:17
10. I Thought About You (Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer) - 4:42
11. Escape From Lower Formant Shift (Jonathan Kreisberg) - 2:34