REVIEWS: In My Own Hands

“In My Own Hands” Gabwalk Records 0901

City Pages
In My Own Hands review

Although Paul Renz is a remarkably accomplished and eclectic jazz guitarist and composer, the jumble of descriptive terms that initially spring to mind when listening to his constantly unfolding, shifting music–tasty, fluid, fusion, funky–all fit but seem wholly inadequate. An East Coast native but longtime Twin Cities resident who teaches at the West Bank School of Music and MacPhail, Renz, with his quintet, will mark the release of his seventh album, In My Own Hands (Gabwalk), at Brit’s Pub. Hands follows up last year’s delightful ReBop with the same personnel, including in-demand flautist Anders Bostrom, who will be replaced by tenor saxophonist Andrew Schwandt at Brit’s because he’s playing with the Broadway musical Shrek. Hands offers prime examples of Renz’s deliciously slippery music. Angular, pointillist forays by Renz and Bostrom kick off the title track, which eddies through successive luminous thematic pools, the flute soaring above a funky bottom forged by drummer Nathan Fryett and bassist Eric Graham before sliding into a crystalline piano passage from Brian Ziemniak. “Bluesing” is just that, a soulful stroll with Renz stringing juicy blues licks over Ziemniak’s bubbling Hammond B3. “Take It Home” is a fiery bit of jazz-funk fusion, distinguished by a searing Renz electric solo and Graham’s fat and funky bass over Fryett’s New Orleans shuffle. “Near and Far” is an elegiac ballad, while the finale, “Off the Cuff,” is a spiraling, funky workout. But that’s just the straightforward stuff. Checking out the creases, negotiating the angles, and following the tangents of Renz’s ever-evolving adventures promise ample rewards.

-Rick Mason, City Pages, December, 2009

“In My Own Hands” Gabwalk Records 0901

jazzpolice.com
In My Own Hands review

Twin Cities guitarist/composer Paul Renz may be best known as Director of Jazz Studies at the West Bank School of Music but his chops as performer and composer are also well established by his six previous recordings. Described variously as “neatly balancing taut and tuneful charts with spontaneous solos” (Tom Surowicz re Everlasting), “a challenging guitarist who keeps the pot boiling” (Frank Robolino re Dish It Up) with “impressive compositional and instrumental chops” (Dan Emerson re Hubbub), he took his most recent ReBop (2007) “well beyond bop, revisiting, re-imagining, running circles around it” (Jazz Police). But Renz raises the bar even higher with his new release, In My Own Hands, a set of nine original compositions brought to swinging, funky, joyous life by his ReBop cohorts, flautist Anders Bostrom, keyboard specialist Brian Ziemniak, bassist Eric Graham and drummer Nathan Fryett.

There’s an air of fusion throughout, particularly on the organ tracks, yet it’s a jazz-driven set filled with plenty of space for thoughtful solos, energetic duels, and respectful collaboration. There’s just enough funk to engage the feet as well as the ear and brain, and particularly Bostroms’ flutes and Zeimniak’s keys seem to bring out the best in Paul Renz. The title track features a long repeating theme, with Graham groaning like an old door. Ziemniak brings a melodic B-3 to “Bluesing” that also features guitar and flute asserting the theme in unison. “First Impressionism” has a Monk-flavored opening theme (“Misterioso” comes to mind), built around a four-note pattern, sounded first by Renz, followed by piano and bass, moving into an abstract exchange between Ziemniak and Bostrom. “Take it Home” is a bubbling conversation between Ziemniak on Hammond B-3 and bassist Eric Graham, who crisscrosses the strings as if weaving a funkhouse tapestry. “Near or Far,” on the other hand, rolls off Renz’s guitar with an airy elegance buoyed by acoustic piano—Ziemniak’s solo here is gorgeous and lacey, while Bostrom’s bass tones on flute are hollow and haunting. But this one really belongs to the composer himself, his songful passages hanging in air with nearly as much resonance as Bostrom’s flute. Graham and Fryett seem both near and far as a soft undercurrent. Renz swings through “I Don’t Know Why I’m Glad,” paving the way for Bostrom’s acrobatic flute and Ziemniak’s equally agile B-3. Bostrom stars on the closing “Off the Cuff,” a Latin-flavored cast party.

In sum, Paul Renz has assembled not only a set list highlighting the diversity of his compositions, but an ensemble that easily moves from one mood to another without breaking stride—it’s a grand mix of elegance, funk and fun. Renz is masterful, “in his own hands” and in good company.

-Andrea Canter, jazzpolice.com, November 2009

“In My Own Hands” Gabwalk Records 0901

JazzChicago.net
In My Own Hands review

Minneapolis-based guitarist Paul Renz is Director of Jazz Studies at the West Bank School of Music and resident jazz guitar teacher at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. In his spare time, he has recorded seven CDs as leader, including 2006’s Beyond Blues and 2007’s ReBop. In My Own Hands finds Renz employing the same musicians from ReBop: fellow Minnesotans Brian Ziemniak on Hammond B3 and piano, drummer Nathan Fryett, bassist Eric Graham and his Swedish-born, East Coast-based former fellow Berklee student – flautist Anders Bostrom. While the compositions are often in a fusion vein and feature an active electric bass, Renz wields a seductively sweet guitar, in tone and style, which, along with Ziemniak’s organ, takes the music in a unique direction: one that straddles eras and genres in memorable fashion. The free-flowing compositions indulge in blues, down-home funk, pop, and melodic impressionism and are often six to twelve minutes in length – allowing room for plenty of jamming. Nice to hear a jazz flute as well – something that sadly seems a rarity since the ’70s of Hubert Laws on the CTI label. Lots of fun stuff throughout and the gloriously funky “Off the Cuff” brings it all together for a rousing finale.

-Brad Walseth, JazzChicago.net, October 2009

“In My Own Hands” Gabwalk Records 0901

Book’s Music
In My Own Hands review

Mellow is as mellow does, but I hope people don’t think that mellow means weak. Paul Renz is a jazz guitarist who is indeed mellow, playing as if he grew up listening to some of the best guitarists around and making sure he doesn’t get stagnant. Of course, most guitarists always go for the throat when it comes to impressing people, or at least letting people know “I love music, I love the guitar, now listen to me play”, and Renz is one of those cats. His last album, ReBop, was something I liked and he returns in fine form with In My Own Hands (Gabwalk).

He is once again backed by Anders Bostrom on flutes, Nathan Fryett on drums, Brian Ziemniak on Hammond B-3 and piano, and Eric Graham on bass, and together they make the kind of music that stands up to any critically acclaimed jazz quintet throughout the genre’s history. They take on Renz’s songs and go exploring on their own, sometimes collectively, sometimes getting into mini-huddles, and just vibe off of each other in a way that makes you want to return to this album over and over again. In the title track alone, clocking in at 11:17, these guys get a chance to present themselves with their own instruments, where you know who rules each section. Ziemniak and Graham get into some eerie prog rock groove, Bostrom brings in his own paints, and Fryett insures everything is put together in a nice package, all of which support Renz in a fashion that just sounds… if “right” isn’t the right word, there has to be something close to it. The music will please fans of early-70’s era CTI, it may make you want to pass your children off to mom, bust out the special flavored oils, and get significant with your other, it has that power. If you’re a rock or soul music fan but not much of a jazz fan, this sounds like some of the jazzier elements of your favorite music, but enhanced to create something quite nice. Hearing a B-3 while a flute solo is going on is like a cross between watching a stoner surfing movie and watching grass grow at high speed. It’s just great, exciting sounds from a great guitarist and a group of friends who should be conquering the world if jazz was the “it” music of the world. Hell, jazz is and will always be the “it” music of the world, spread its awareness.

-John Book, Book’s Music Review, September 2009

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