"John Gunther comes out of the Sonny Rollins tradition of direct and melodic saxmen." - AFIM music MIX
"Worth investigating for his personal interpretations of the modern mainstream." - Ira Gitler
"...a fluent compose-performer who is redefining mainstream Jazz." - (CADENCE review of "Permission Granted" )
"Highly recommended" - (JAZZ NEWS review of "Permission Granted)
Gone FishinCIMP 232
This is a zany album, sort of in the flavor of an Ornetteish or Don Byron-esque take on klezmer music or Irish music or calypso or Oriental music or mid-Eastern music or West Coast jazz. Gunther, who plays tenor, soprano, clarinet and flute, crosses the line among classical techniques and jazz and avant-garde techniques. His sidemen- trumpeter Ron Miles, violinist Rob Thomas, bassist Leo Huppert and drummer Jay Rosen-follow faithfully in his spirit.
Gunther and Miles play a clarinet-and-trumpet duet on "Monks Mood", which is about as familiar as this album gets. "Brilliancy Medley" dances along repetitiously like an Irish jig, and Gunther, on soprano, starts exercising inside and then slyly writhes outside. On "Catch of the Day", which is Oriental sounding, Miles gets into a Don Cherry bag. On the swinging, Raymond Scott-like "Bait and Tackle" Thomas stays inside and cooks joyously.
Huppert and Rosen are the workhorses of this music. The bassist holds everything together, whether droning on an extended ostinato pattern or walking the jazz time. Rosen lets his excitement boil up and bubble over from time. His solos are especially well recorded. Good clarity among the various elements of the drum kit.
This is quite a stew. Something for every ethnic group but distinctly heated and seasoned by the leader.
1999 Cadence Readers Poll Top picks for new issues in '99
1. William Parker Peach Orchard
2. Roscoe Mitchell 9 to get Ready
3. Dave Douglas Convergence
4. Charlie Kohlhase Dancing On My Bedpost
5. Ken Vandermark Simpatico
6. Dewey Redman Momentum
7. Cecil Taylor Qu'a Yuba Vol.2
8. Trio-X Watermelon Suite
9. Fred Anderson Live@ Velvet Lounge
10. Sam Rivers Inspiration
11. Francois Houle In the Vernacular
Review of Above Now Below, Cadence Magazine; September 1999
What a pleasure it is to listen to music that flows logically, to musicians who listen to each other, reacting and interacting as a group, to a composer who knows what it is he wants yet leaves room for the individual. Above Now Below is the 3rd John Gunther CD I've gotten to review . David Lewis reviewed Gunther's first CIMP release and I've liked each one. While the rhythm section has remained a constant on his 3 CIMP CD's, the group has expanded yet again with the addition of violinist Rob Thomas.
For this program, Gunther has arranged the pieces into 3 distinct suites, each recorded in a single take. "Above" consists of 5 tunes. The boppish "Speonk" open the short set with a unison riff over Jay Rosen's snappy drum work and contains a rollicking tenor solo from the leader. Ron Mile's trumpet solo goes off in a different direction , riding atop Leo Huppert's billowing bass lines. Thomas gets the third spot - I like his bluesy riffs and direct attack. That piece gives way to the reggae lilt of "Deja Vu" with Gunther's melody sounding like what one might hear in the early evening in Jamaica. The third section goes in a totally different direction - the "free" wanderings of "Matter (of Choice)" has opening horn murmurs that echo the melody of the previous tune. This starts easily, with Miles' growing lines reminiscent of Lester Bowie before giving way to a bass (slow lines) and drums (Rosen moving swiftly around the kit) dialogue. The horns and violin intersperse short phrases as the dialogue builds in intensity. Thomas works up in the violin's higher registers for his short, frenetic solo while Miles works off the patterns of the rhythm section to lead the quintet into a short "open" section. That songs stops abruptly, leading into the lovely "Country Waltz", a "sweet" melody that features Gunther's handsome clarinet work. Rosen really captures the gentle quality of the piece with his quiet brush work while Huppert's melodic lines serve as counterpoint to the melodies that the soloists create. The first suite ends with "Chant #1", a trance-like rhythm with a country blues flute melody from Gunther - Miles originally stays behind the flute then insinuates his phrases into the mix, reminding this listener of Don Cherry. This suite lasts almost 30 minutes yet moves so seamlessly time becomes irrelevant.
The second suite, "Now", consists of only 2 pieces; the bluesy "Bwee-Aahh" features more fine clarinet work from Gunther and tight ensemble work while "Intransit" shows the influence of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" in its extended melody line and mournful theme. Rosen leads the ensemble into the body of the piece with an insistent cymbal line. What a fine mix of sounds from the violin, soprano sax, and trumpet - Miles is so understated yet vital to the integrity of the music. This is a piece where no one steps out yet all 3 players in the front line are improvising. It hearkens back to the early days of New Orleans Jazz - without sounding at all Dixieland or "trad Jazz," "Intransit" is a logical extension of that form. "Colemanation", a vehicle for strong solos from Gunther (on tenor), Thomas, and Rosen (utilizing his entire kit). "Goin' Inside That Batcave" has a "Peter Gunn" feel to its rhythmic intro and a Horace Silver quality in its soulful melody line. "Nick's First Lullabye" is dedicated to the leader's son and features more fine ensemble work and a plaintive melody. Thomas's lines are evocative of a country fiddler (Richard Greene and Vassar Clements come to mind). "Folk Song" has a harder attack from the rhythm section yet the melody lines retain the soulful feel of earlier pieces. Gunther's short solo over Rosen's splashing drums is a highlight of the piece. The composition contains short sections for quartet, trio, and duo statements yet never feels disjointed. The final suite and the CD close with "Chant #2", which opens somewhat discordantly them moves into the quiet give-and-take which was a feature of "Chant #1".
Above Now Below is a listener's recording. It's often quiet, there are not many long solos yet plenty of melodies, and is a model of intuitive interplay. John Gunther's melodic music is right at home on a label that prides itself on recording top notch improvising musicians - his style is built from logical material that has been worked on in clubs, concerts, and in the studio. You can tell that these musicians were not reading these charts for the first time because the kind of intimacy one hears in this program cannot be scripted. If you don not own a John Gunther recording, it's hard to say where to start - you would not go wrong buying all three.
Richard B. Kamins
Review of Above Now Below, The All Music Guide; 7 0f 9 stars
Original composers are a rare breed in any genre, so it is refreshing to hear reed player John Gunther's three suites for quintet performed by a group of very fine musicians. Gunther has recorded successfully before on the CIMP label with trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist/violinist Leo Huppert, and drummer Jay Rosen. Here, he adds violinist Rob Thomas, who proves a formidable improviser. If the music occasionally drifts, there are plenty of moments of wonderful interaction and splendid soloing. Ron Miles continues to impress on trumpet, with a somewhat acerbic tone reminiscent of Don Cherry. Gunther is a good player, with a nice jagged approach. His writing encompasses a range of styles, from Hard Bop to the avant-garde. The two strings add depth to the group sound, but this is one instance where keyboards might have made a very good album even better. - Steven A Loewy
Review of Healing Song, Coda Magazine May 1999
John Gunther boasts a winning combination of players with trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Leo Huppert, and drummer Jay Rosen. By the sound of things, Ornette's quartet from 1960 offered the blueprint for this music, and Gunther's original compositions fit right in the mold, saxophone and trumpet so closely intertwined. A solid addition to CIMP's catalogue, Healing Song showcases Axis Mundi's ability to swing in a variety of moods, whether it is the calypso vamp ofPablo or the straight up Jung and the Restless. Their take on Monk's Crepescule with Nellie drifts with a trance-like felling, much like the meditative Healing Song. -Len Bukowski
Review of Healing Song, The All Music Guide; 8 of 9 stars
Close your eyes and you might think you are listening to a quartet led by Ornette Coleman from the late 1950's or early 60's. But listen some more, and the updated and unique qualities of this extraordinary group led by saxophonist John Gunther reveal themselves. Gunther has a knack for simple, catchy melodies that lend themselves to flights of improvisational fancy. His fluid, yet unpretentious solos sound a wake-up call for the Millenium. Gunther is joined by the extraordinary trumpeter, Ron Miles, bassist Leo Huppert, and drummer Jay Rosen. While Miles may remind you of the late Don Cherry, he boasts his own voice, which is acerbic, rough, and adventorous. The sole piece not penned by Gunther, Monk's "Crepescule with Nellie" is played magnificently as a duet of the horns. Every track sparkles, and Huppert and Rosen add considerably to the blend. - Steven A Loewy
Review of Healing Song, Cadence Magazine; February 1999
Am I just paying more attention or is there an increase in creative musicians who are interested in writing songs with real melodies, smart arrangements, and "through lines"?
John Gunther's first CIMP CD was praised in these pages by David Lewis (10/97, p.105); a review in which he compared the composer/saxophonist to such artists as Sonny Rollins (from the 60's), Odean Pope, and J.R. Monterose. His new release is similar in its approach but even more impressive in its execution. First of all, Gunther's comrade from Colorado, Ron Miles, adds a strong second lead voice to the mix. Secondly, the group came into this session very well prepared in that they had played much of this music in concert. I had the good fortune to hear the trio perform this material in a small concert setting. Listening to this CD, I can see the lanky Gunther cueing his fellow musicians with a nod of his sax, I can see Leo Huppert leaning into his Bass, and remember with pleasure how Jay Rosen moved around his kit, how he drove his bandmates with such passion. I remember being impressed with the different styles of music I heard that evening and this program displays that variety. "Jung & the Restless" has a very funky bass line and drum rhythm over which Miles and Gunther play a subtly sensuous contrapuntal melody. "Pablo" may remind you of Herbie Nichols in its drum-driven melody and Sonny Rollins with its "St. Thomas" - like main theme. Huppert's bass is upfront throughout the recording and his subtle shifts of tempo and sound jump out at the listener. "Sound Byte" is a piece in which Gunther provides the listener with his musical idea of fiddling with a radio dial; there are strains of classically influenced music, another Rollins-like melody line, an out-of-tempo trumpet solo, a waltz section, a manic bebop romp for bass and alto, and more.
Gunther and Miles play "Crepescule With Nellie" sans rhythm section. I like the blend of tenor and trumpet, especially the way they move independently of each other yet come together every now and then. The duo's use of space and the implied waling rhythm (dig how Gunther's rhythm line behind the trumpet solo suggests Julius Hemphill) makes this more than just another warmed-over rendition of a Monk classic. "Axis Mundi" builds from a tenor moan, not even a direct note, into a prayerful melody that suggests "Motherless Child." Rosen's subtle cymbal and drumset work frames the tenor solo perfectly. When Huppert comes in, Miles plays a beautiful section, just a short (20-25 seconds) melody that has great power and leads directly into the title track where the theme (played by trumpet and bowed bass) has the feel of an American Indian chant.
This CD has much to offer the patient listener; inventive interplay, melodies that stick in your mind, solos that don't meander but move in a forward direction. John Gunther's writing has really matured since I reviewed his first recording (3/95, p.90). I also cannot say enough about Rosen's work here and on the new Andrew Cheshire disc (CIMP #165) - he has such an intelligent, rhythmical and (best of all) unselfish approach to his role in a group. This is music that bears repeated listening so that you can savor all the melodies, the solos, and the apparent joy that the participants had in playing this music.- R. Kamins
Review of Healing Song, Jazz Times; February 1999
This session features saxophonist John Gunther teamed with trumpeter Ron Miles, in a piano-less quartet on most tracks. They play within the idiom of that modernist style and produce music full of angular contours and spiritual movement. The compositions are strongly realized, yet leave room for twists and turns of surprise, and solemn moments, such as the title track and a somber trumpet/sax duet on "Crepescule With Nellie". - Sid Gribet
CONVERGENCE APPEARS AT THE FAMOUS "BLUE NOTE" IN NEW YORK CITY
Review by Ira Gitler
There are so many young musicians dotting the New York landscape these nights that often some good ones get lost in the shuffle. A case in point was the quintet that played a Monday night at the Blue Note on November 18th. I knew of them first hand because I had written the notes to John Gunther and Greg Gisbert's Capri CD, Big Lunage, but they were virtual strangers to this New York audience. However, they won the crowd over immediately with urgent swing and a mixture of originals and personal interpretations of jazz standards.
For this one-nighter they imported their Denver rhythm section of Eric Gunnison, piano; Mark Simon, bass; and Paul Romaine, drums. Gunnison, who was Carmen McRae's accompanist, is a vastly underrated soloist who also writes well as proven by his compositions Enroute and Coalesce, Yes! Gunther contributed the arresting Gnuble Ooze and a hard swinging line on What is This Thing Called Love, entitled Hometown, which used little, written launching pads for each soloist. Jimmy Rowles' The Peacocks featured Gunther's tenor with some room for a Gunnision solo. The pianist set the solo tone of the freshly-voiced version of Bud Powell's Un Poco Loco. Gisbert followed Eric, artfully separated by an interlude, and maintained the high-intensity cooking. Then the tempo was slowed for Gunther's journey into exotica before resuming its up-tempo energy. Gunther, Gisbert and Gunnison are three G's worth investigating for their personal interpretations of the modern mainstream. -Ira Gitler
REVIEW OF "PERMISSION GRANTED": CADENCE MAGAZINE
In a previous review of John Gunther (3/95), Richard B. Kamins referred to his "Shorter-esque lines," but on this latest session, Gunther displays a voluble lyric invention that recalls the jaunty spirit of Sonny Rollins in his creative prime during the '60s. Gunther explores a comprable intricate flow of ideas from the shifting tempos ans sustained double tempo runs of "Happy B-Day Mr. C" to the solid inventive swing of "Marksman." Ending the CD with an acappella tenor showcase ("Stardust") also gives the nod to Rollins, even though Gunther's tenor tone recalls players like J.R.Montrose, and although the deliberated passion of "Living Room" and double tempo alto runs in his ballad feature "Lines" echo the singular dedication of John Coltrane, most notably in the dramatic climax of "Living Room" where he constructs a dramatic multiphonic declaration.
Drummer Jay Rosen supports these inventions with alert rapport. He begins "Living Room" with an opening solo of dramatic invention, shows delicacy behind bass player Leo Huppert in the title track and sustains Gunther's moody bass clarinet in "Stroll" with masterful cymbal work. Rosen opens the uptempo soprano feature "Home Sweet Home" with a startling drum fanfare that evolves into a driving uptempo shuffle as he peppers Gunther's twining soprano lines with snare and cymbal accents or intricate rim shots after Huppert's bass solo.
This trio session showcases Gunther as a fluent composer-performer who is redefining mainstream Jazz with other versatile voices like Odean Pope. Recommended.
- David Lewis
REVIEW OF "PERMISSION GRANTED": CODA MAGAZINE; May/June 98
Relaxing but not dull, the music of John Gunther's trio swings through originals, with the leader's tenor on Tribe-Ka aggressively bluesy. The accelerating rhythms of Happy Birthday, Mr. C, settle into a cheery second-line with drummer Jay Rosen's energy meeting the dark tone of bassist Leo Huppert. Another of Bob Rusch's CIMPs, the sound is au-natural, no reverb sheen, giving the music an attractive immediacy.
- Steve Vickery
REVIEW OF "PERMISSION GRANTED": AFIM music MAGAZINE; November 1997
John Gunther comes out of the Sonny Rollins tradition of direct and melodic saxmen. Nine driving and fun originals capped off by a tenor solo outing on "Stardust".
REVEIW OF "PERMISSION GRANTED": JAZZ NEWS; Jan-Feb/98
Performing the leader's compositions, the John Gunther Trio brings us straight-ahead jazz with ventures outside the mainstream. The title track, for example, has a familiar and comfortable feel, as if it came from Porgy and Bess; and yet, their creative improvisation supplies needed intensity and piques our interest.
On tenor sax, light and imaginative with a kinship to the syle of Sonny Rollins, even incorporating several Caribbean rhythms from time to time, Gunther provides the composed head melodies and then improvises well. Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" is performed sensitively on the tenor unaccompanied. On alto sax, the leader combines his careful articulation with a light approach to tone control, while keeping the bass and drums on a par with his range of motion. "Home Sweet Home" is an uptempo piece that allows time for Gunther's soprano saxophone to run up and down, covering all the notes on that instrument in rapid-fire fashion. The deep throaty bass clarinet, used on "Stroll", strengthens the bassist's line and amplifies how well the trio makies equal use of all three voices. Highly recommended.
- Jim Santella