“Hazelnut Eyes” has hints of American folk music. Its lopsided ostinato gives the impression of a train chugging down the tracks. The piece’s clear-cut sections could be heard as verses and choruses, which, along with the melody’s smooth contours, makes it seem as though it could be an instrumental version of a song with lyrics. If it did have lyrics, it’s clear that they would tell a story of adoration tinged with pain.
The following track, “One More Song,” features saxophonist Mark Turner, whose refined, restrained tone contributes greatly to the understated expressions of the album. Hekselman’s composition roils, occasionally swelling and bursting from the tension, only to suddenly find itself simmering again, like a pot of spaghetti whose lid is periodically removed to prevent its boiling over. Mark Turner solos elegantly by whisking arpeggios and lines that sweep through the entire range of the saxophone. While his playing is generally more ablaze than the tune itself, he makes sure not to skirt the line between subtle agitation and turgidity.
On some tracks, such as “Flower” and “The Bucket Kicker,” Hekselman plays without Turner. The former in particular is beautiful in its simplicity. Like “Hazelnut Eyes,” it features a song-like and folksy melody. Its repetition is meditative, and when the band allows its borders to extend, a sweeping panorama takes shape. It reminds me of driving down a lonely highway in balmy weather. ‘The Bucket Kicker” is a playful piece that teases out a light swing feel.
However, it’s the pieces with Turner that are the great successes of Hearts Wide Open. For one thing, Turner’s tone adds a layer of warmth that is absent from the trio. His presence also allows Hekselman to explore fuller-bodied accompaniment. “Hearts Wide Open” contains a repeated melodic fragment that marks a sudden brightening of mood, as though the sun is dispelling ominous clouds. The melody propels Turner’s solo, and marks the apex of the track.
There’s a similar device in “Understanding,” with even more compelling results. Turner plays with an uncharacteristic soulfulness, behind which Hekselman plays a triumphant and yet wistful melody. At the peak of Turner’s fervor, he plays the melody in unison with Hekselman, signaling the song’s final and bittersweet resolution.
Gilad Hekselman is at the forefront of the jazz guitar world, adding to the world of technique, mood, and compositional innovation that recent greats like John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel created. Hearts Wide Open is highly recommended.
September October 11th, 2011 on Le Chant du Monde Records
- Gilad Hekselman – Guitar
- Mark Turner – Tenor Saxophone
- Joe Martin – Bass
- Marcus Gilmore – Drums
- Hazelnut Eyes
- One More Song
- Hearts Wide Open
- The Bucket Kicker
- Will You Let It?