Okay, so I’m average. Married my high school sweetheart, produced 2.0 kids. The garage holds one car and one minivan. Assuming the Lipitor does its job, I will have the opportunity to complete the second half of my life. And, while I’m far from wealthy, the fact that every pair of khakis I received for Father’s Day contained a hidden stretch waistband proves that I’m not lacking nourishment either.
Such was the case as I grew up listening to music. Whether it was AC/DC or Earth, Wind, and Fire, Top 40 radio stations generally defined the listening tastes for most teens, me included. Fortunately, I’ve always encountered individuals in my life who have pushed me out of my comfort zone so I could experience life “outside the box.” Enter Andrew Kratzat.
Even as a FWCS high school student, Kratzat was constantly altering jazz standards, experimenting with odd time signatures and composing original music. Others more knowledgeable than me knew he was outstanding; as a high school senior, he was named by Downbeat Magazine as the Best High School Jazz Soloist in the U.S. and Canada. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, he was honored by the International Association of Bassists as the best jazz bass player. Although I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of his first CD, I knew to expect the unexpected. As usual, he exceeded my expectations.
Kratzat called me shortly after I received a copy of The Dentist and asked me what I thought of his debut CD. Summoning my years of experience as the former president of the Fort Wayne Jazz Society, I sagaciously replied, “I don’t know yet.” Sure, I knew this was a killer CD; however, I quickly realized that I was going to need to spend some time involved in intently listening to Kratzat’s work. You see, in addition to being a phenomenal instrumentalist, he also possesses more grey matter than me (yeah, I’m pretty average in the intelligence category as well). While Andrew is one of the most humble individuals I know, he is also an intellectual sponge; his interests are not only varied, but he possesses a deep knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. His musical experience is no different; whether it’s modern jazz, folk, klezmer or classical, his musical performances connect with the listener on an emotional level.
After several times through The Dentist, I found myself more intrigued with each listen. Let’s get one thing straight, however: This is not the CD to use for background music at your next Friday night cocktail party. Nor would I recommend this as a Christmas present for your granny who adores the Big Band era.
The Dentist is an instrumental roller coaster ride. At times, the music is introspective, hypnotic and almost dream-like, giving the listener a sense of peace. Just as you think all is well in the world, the music turns into a frenetic, dissonant, joyride of raw post-modern jazz. Interestingly, these transformations take place within a single song, not just from track to track. Kratzat crafts many of his compositions (eight of the 11 are originals) as would a talented storyteller. He draws you into each musical story by providing twists and turns, sometimes resolving the story, while other times ending the song abruptly or in a surprising fashion.
When describing Kratzat to others I often remark about the amazing fact that Kratzat can be so talented yet so incredibly humble. As I listened to The Dentist, it is quite apparent that Kratzat spends as much time showcasing the outstanding musicians on the CD as he does his own remarkable skills. On “October” and “Victor Jara”, sax players Andrew Bishop and Joey Dosik engage in an interplay that allows each to develop reflective phrases into burning, energetic solos. Long-time collaborator, award-winning violinist Jeremy Kittel squares off with Kratzat in a harried, fast-paced duo fittingly titled “Buzzards.” On Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks,” listeners will enjoy the subtle vocals of Jesse Palter, sounding a bit like Luciana Souza as she rises and falls on this haunting ballad. On the CD’s only “straight ahead” composition, pianist Matt Endahl crafts a bouncy number that would easily find its way into the repertoire of any group performing at Club Soda this weekend. Finally, Kratzat teams up with guitarists Tomek Miernowski and Tom Stoepker and drummer Chad Hochberg on my personal favorite, “Cathedral”; this Pat Metheny-like piece is full of twists and turns, beginning as a relaxing ballad and building to a flurry of free jazz. The common theme is a passionate energy that drives each song, regardless of the tempo or musical personnel.
I’m proud that Kratzat is not “playing it safe” on his first release. Many in the jazz community lament the fact that jazz is losing its listenership because musicians refuse to evolve. Certainly, nobody will ever accuse Kratzat of being a dinosaur. By staying true to his passion for creative expression, he’s made a CD that will probably be simultaneously loved and hated by jazz audiophiles; however, he has remained true to himself as an artist. Too bad this trait isn’t more common in musicians today.
Songs from The Dentist can be downloaded at iTunes. You can also learn more about Kratzat and his music by visiting www.myspace.com/andrewkratzat. (Matt Schiebel)ALIGN=Center>Copyright 2008 Ad Media Inc.