REVIEWS: Beyond Blues

“Beyond Blues” Gabwalk Records 0601

Philadelphia Inquirer
Beyond Blues Review

Somewhere on that Buddy Johnson ditty “Since I Fell for You,” guitarist Paul Renz will knock you out. The Norfolk, Virginia native, now based in Minneapolis, with jazz degrees from both the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, projects his fuzzy tone all over that soulful chestnut, and then turns it into a rocker before it comes back to gin-soaked repose. What a ride.

Renz’s quintet is a tad more cerebral for most of these seven cuts. The title track, with the Jaco Pastorius-like doodling of bassist Eric Graham and the deft stickwork of drummer Nathan Fryett, is a veritable mood cleanser. These players happily are not phat-free. A Renz original, “11th and LaSalle,” is guaranteed to shake some tail feathers. Organist Brian Ziemniak and tenor saxophonist Andrew Schwandt are responsible for some of the requisite soul.

Renz’s solo take of the Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” makes for a warm closer.

-Karl Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 25, 2007

“Beyond Blues” Gabwalk Records 0601

Winner of “Excellence in Music Award”
If you claim to “like all music, as long as it’s good,” jazz guitarist Paul Renz has you covered. Renz is known for mentoring local music stars. His own quartet, with special guest, Hammond B-3 organist Brian Ziemniak, is impressive, whether playing angular fusion, joyous organ jazz, soulful slow blues, or hard-grooving bebop. Renz’s “I’ll Follow The Sun,” for instance, goes where it pleases, familiar but always fresh. Beyond Blues is serious fun for everyone.

-Jim Meyer, Minnesota Monthly, “Best Of Minnesota” edition, January 2007

“Beyond Blues” Gabwalk Records 0601

Yet another of those educators by day and working musicians by night jazz guys, Paul Renz heads the Jazz Studies Department at Minneapolis’ West Bank School of Music. Here on his fifth CD as a leader, the guitarist is joined by B3, tenor and rhythm section players for a romp through a collection of originals and classics. His tone alternates between that classic warm dry tone and the more modern Metheny-esque style, depending on the direction this versatile player decides to go. Those looking for some awesome segue music should check out the brief rendition of the Beatles’ “I’ll Follow The Sun,” but there is plenty of adult portions here to be had-“11th & LaSalle” is a nice bluesy groove, the open ended title cut pushes at the edges, and “Yardbird Suite” brings it all back home (to crib a phrase from another Minnesotan). Not something on the radar for most of us, but certainly a nicely varied effort that will have something for everyone to dig.

-Tad Hendrickson, JazzWeek, 2006

“Beyond Blues” Gabwalk Records 0601

With his new Beyond Blues, Twin Cities guitarist/composer/educator Paul Renz now has a discography five discs deep. This one indeed goes beyond the blues, pulling in some funk, fusion, and more classical jazz elements to create a diverse set of originals and covers that showcase not only the guitarist but his accomplished bandmates as well: tenor saxman Andrew Schwandt, B-3 player Brian Ziemniak, bassist Eric Graham, and drummer Nathan Fryett. All will be on hand November 1st when Renz holds a CD Release Party at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis.

A native of Virginia, Paul Renz earned degrees from Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. His academic resume includes developing jazz curriculum at a performing arts high school in Norfolk, VA and teaching jazz at Tidewater Community College before coming to Minneapolis in 1993 to direct jazz studies at the West Bank School of Music. He’s also the resident jazz guitar instructor at the MacPhail Center for Music. Renz wasted no time becoming an integral part of the Twin Cities jazz scene in the mid 90s, continuing his roles as composer and bandleader as well as performer on guitar and electric bass. His previous recordings earned such accolades 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), and “impressive compositional and instrumental chops” (Dan Emerson re Hubbub).

Beyond Blues (Gabwalk Records) is as eclectic as Paul Renz, with three original tunes and a diverse set of four covers that range from jazz classics (Yardbird Suite, I’ll Remember April) to cross generation-pop (Since I Fell For You, I’ll Follow the Sun). It’s a relatively short set at 42 minutes but it covers a lot of territory. The title track takes a blues groove to the great beyond from the first notes of an off-kilter duo vamp of sax and guitar. Schwandt’s rich, buzzy tone twists and somersaults through Renz’ composition, while bassist Eric Graham bubbles with acidic phrases and gurgling pops. The arrangement of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite swings hard as Renz delivers the theme over Ziemniak’s subtle comping. Sax and guitar alternate melodic and harmonic leadership, while Ziemniak’s relaxed and high-speed phrasing will be pleasingly familiar to anyone who has heard his work on acoustic keyboards.

You might wonder if you are tuned into a 21st century adaptation of American Band Stand as the quintet launches into Buddy Johnson’s pop classic, Since I Fell for You. Particularly enhanced by the B-3 and some jet-propelled percussion from Nathan Fryett, a rock n blues groove permeates this track until it hits an abrupt end. Switching gears, Renz seems to chase his own notes through a bouncing I’ll Remember April, while the guitarist lays back on his own Early Morning, giving lots of space to showcase Andrew Schwandt.

Renz’s 11th and Lasalle is a funky blues delight, evoking the busy traffic of the downtown intersection near MacPhail. It’s a grooving romp for Ziemniak on B-3, while Renz delivers some of his best lines in this conversation, and Schwandt contributes some bright and snarly licks. Turning 180 degrees, the final track finds Renz alone to deconstruct the Lennon/McCartney classic, I’ll Follow the Sun. In a more acoustic fashion, the guitarist manages to pay homage to the original while still turning it into his own statement in very compact, under-two-minute finale.
It all seems to end too soon, but there’s another helping close at hand in live performance. Apparently anything can happen when these guys get together, as they will prove on November 1st when the Paul Renz Quintet celebrates the release of Beyond Blues at the Dakota.

-Andrea Carter,, October 2006