Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Review of Recent Jazz Album Release: Dead Men Are Heavier Than Broken Hearts
Artist: Christopher Woitach and the Cathexis Orchestra
Album: dead men (are heavier than broken hearts)/February 15-18, 2006/teal creek records TC2009
Review: Christopher Woitach's second album as a leader signifies the breakout on the jazz scene of a highly evolved and still-evolving artist who dares to innovate with an astounding arsenal of unusual and powerful compositional tools to create a distinct sound that swings and bops and floats and grooves and surprises with shifting tempos, moods, layers, textures, and colors. While drawing on a thorough grounding in existing blues and jazz styles and traditions, Woitach blends these elements with thoughtful invention into an original synthesis that defies easy categorization.
This 2006 album of original music composed, arranged, and produced by guitarist Christopher Woitach grew out of a project he began more than ten years ago to set music to the words of beloved American detective novelist Raymond Chandler. This is by no means an attempt at "film noir" music. While utilizing Chandler's writings as a creative spark and lyrical source, Woitach stays true to his musical vision as a jazz composer and guitar virtuoso.
Woitach's harmonically-advanced, cool-toned, and subtle guitar playing is featured throughout the album. He is technically brilliant and versatile - using the guitar in different contexts as a percussive, harmonic, melodic, rhythm, and lead instrument. His improvisational prowess is demonstrated both vertically - building and smoothly manipulating dense chordal and harmonic voicings, and horizontally - propelling his compositions with polished, expressive, melodically-advanced, and flowing lines.
Woitach includes generous space in his compositions for improvisations from his sidemen who are all first-rate musicians in their own right. Tim Jensen (flute), Keller Coker (trombone), and Tom Bergeron (alto) contribute outstanding improvisations on the album's first cut. Bergeron's alto solo on the third track blasts into orbit with a muscular free-jazz explosion reminiscent of John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman at their most untethered.
Woitach's compositional sophistication, his use of counterpoint and canon and fugal structures, and the deployment of alto, trombone, flute, baritone, bass clarinet, bass, and drums in his arrangements is nothing less than inspired. For example, the album's opening cut interleaves improvisational sections with five-voiced fugue interludes of precise lengths determined by a descending Fibonacci number series. In the hands of a less-skilled composer and musician, such a calculated scheme might result in music that is overly mechanical, unduly complicated, and devoid of feeling.
Woitach's breakthrough on this album is the culmination of years of applied effort to plumb the mysteries and depths of classical mathematical constructs to discover their underlying organic, natural, and musical implications. On this album, Woitach applies his complex compositional techniques to create jazz music that is impressively unconventional, atypical, and decidedly uncommon. Woitach does not emulate other composers and musicians. His music is not an exercise in intrinsic geekery or cybernetic noodling. Although knowledge of harmonic and contrapuntal music theory and applied mathematics no doubt enhances appreciation, it stands on its own as enjoyable jazz music. He captivates the listener with what I call "pure grooving" and music that is capable of expressing and reflecting a wide range of emotion, but he does so in his own uniquely refined yet mischievous Woitachian way.
Jazz critic Scott Yanow once wrote: "The most important jazz musicians are the ones who are successful in creating their own original world of music with its own rules, logic, and surprises." By this criterion, Woitach's latest album is persuasive evidence of his emergence as an important jazz musician. Woitach has created and continues to create his own original world of music that exhibits internal logic and surprises that can be found in the music of no other.
Woitach is an extraordinarily talented musician and composer, and with this album, he has succeeded brilliantly by creating music that simultaneously appeals to the emotions and the intellect - music that is interesting, dynamic, accessible, and rewards repeated listenings. The best part is that Woitach is still evolving, still exploring the ramifications of his creative genius. There is a lot of great music yet to come from, and the world would do well to pay attention to, this amazing artist.
For bookings, information, and other albums from Christopher Woitach, go here. The album dead men (are heavier than broken hearts) can be purchased here.