Michael Feinberg, Blues Variant Review
By Sylvannia Garutch
Michael Feinberg is releasing his Criss Cross record label debut as a leader, Blues Variant. Blues Variant includes six originals by Feinberg, one by tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, and one by pianist Leo Genovese. The bassist focuses on the role of his instrument for the duration of the album, which keeps in line with the 35-year-old’s mantra, “If you want to hear me solo, come to a gig, where I often play a solo on every tune.” Feinberg continues, “I’m serving the music; what I appreciate about a bass player is how they make the other people in the band sound. I love hearing the soloistic abilities of Christian McBride, John Patitucci, Dave Holland, and the people I idolize, but they’re amazing because, when they play, it feels incredible, and they push their bandmates to be the best versions of themselves or go beyond what they think they can do.” As another example, Feinberg mentions Jimmy Garrison, who triangulated between McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones with the “spiritually transcendent” John Coltrane Quartet between 1961 and 1965. “He rarely plays a solo, but you don’t get the Coltrane quartet with anyone else. So I don’t care about the solos or being on top of the mix to indicate, ‘this is a bass player’s record.’ I play a ton of notes. I’m playing the whole time. Can’t miss it.”
“High or Booze” is an interesting Feinberg original with a flowing melody and exciting reading. Feinberg and drummer Nasheet Waits work together to build a relaxed feel with groove and elasticity to build energy. Saxophonist Noah Preminger performs a bouncing solo, setting the mood of excitement with a post-bop dynamism. Leo Genovese keeps the colors and bridges the polyrhythmic cycles between Waits and Preminger. Genovese’s solo builds with bluesy motifs and matches the song’s demeanor. Feinberg’s groove and compositional style are both highlighted in this original composition.
The ensemble is augmented by saxophonist and educator David Liebman for an exemplary arrangement of “Eye of the Hurricane.” The two saxophones gain a dimension that evokes intensity and sophistication. Liebman’s solo is active and in a post-modern fashion. Apart from anything else, Feinberg keeps the swing and pulse steady for the proceedings. Genovese subsequently consolidates his piano solo with motivic ideas and wildly loping ideas. The ensemble works together to form a pulsating swing feel, escalating into a beautiful musical moment and one of the album’s highlights.
Blues Variant is a strong outing for Feinberg with a clear direction of intent, ensemble assimilation, and compositions and arrangements. Feinberg’s goal of creating an environment that stimulates the performers while simultaneously feeling great is accomplished.