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Joachim Schonecker - Common Language


Joachim Schonecker - Guitar, Larry Fuller - Piano, John Goldsby - Bass, Jeff Hamilton - Drums

1. Blues & Fashion (4:47) Schonecker
2. Bud's Beaux Arts (4:41) Buddy Montgomery
3. Snapshot (4:24) Schonecker
4. Contemplation (6:37) Paul Heller
5. Ain't Misbehavin' (5:44) Fats Waller & Harry Brooks
6. Please Talk After The Beep (5:30)
7. Marie (7:33) Schonecker
8. I Hear A Rhapsody (4:19) George Fragos, Jack Baker
9. Back and Fourth (4:33)
10. 'Round Midnight (4:35) Thelonious Monk
11. My Shining Hour (6:22) Harold Arlen
Total Time (59:29)

Listen to CD Tracks

     It's a commonplace nowadays that the jazz community is the world's most broad-based and cosmopolitan school of art, but the kid from Koln is further proof of the truth: that jazz is spoken internationally, honored by the worldwide embrace of its best poet-players' unbound creative rapport. If Joachim Schoenecker, born in 1966 in Saarbrucken, Germany, comes to jazz (subcategory: post-hardbop guitar combo) from what at first glance seems like afar, on Common Language  he gets jazz just right, communicating warmly, gracefully, engagingly yet with an edge-as to the music born.

    Actually, Joachim got the word 'Guitar!' at age 11. He emerged at 15 to gig with local soul and jazz bands around his hometown and the area of Trier, then beyond to France, Denmark and Sweden. Finishing school, he moved to Koln, studied with Dutch jazz guitarist Wim Overgaauw at Hilversums Conservatorium in the Netherlands, and in '89 enrolled in the Musikhochschule Koln to work with Jiggs Whigham, John Taylor, Manfred Schoof, et al.

    Joachim formed a straight ahead quartet (like the well-balanced one he leads here) in '92, and took it all over the European festival circuit. Then in '95 he came to the U.S. for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz's prestigious annual instrumental competition, becoming, in the course of fierce playoffs, one of nine overwhelmingly talented semifinalists. Performing for the jazz guitar worlds' best credentialed judges-Jim Hall, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Mark Whitfield, among them-and scene-making aficionados, Schoenecker stood out from the pack for his confident yet sensitively lyrical touch, flowing but taut phrasing and impressive melodicism. He demonstrates those same gifts on this debut record, where's he's out to woo and win you.

    He'll do it, too-with five bright original compositions, a daring soliloquy on Monk's "'Round Midnight," a trio version of "Ain't Misbehavin'" the refreshed standards "I Hear A Rhapsody" and "My Shining Hour," and two tunes he discovered, Buddy Montgomery's "Bud's Beaux Arts" and "Contemplation" by young Koln tenor saxist Paul Heller. This repertoire adds up to something more than a vehicle for Joachim and his compatriots Larry Fuller (piano), John Goldsby (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums) to wow the listener with; it unfolds as an inviting, varyingly paced but unfailingly propulsive program ushering you where you've likely been wanting to go.

    Starting with the blues, of course, the onrushing stream of song from which, arguably, everything subsequent issues. Schoenecker's "Blues & Fashion" asserts in a most sophisticated manner that the blues never go out of fashion, and fashion is barely a gloss on the blues. Swing it, brother! And further dig his backbeat on "Bud's Beaux Arts," by the vibes-playing sibling of the greatest post-bop guitarist (and for-sure Schoenecker influence-known by those octave-spread lines) Wes Montgomery. Hard to get bluer than that! "Snapshot" is Joachim's quick take on Gershwin's classic "I Got Rhythm" changes, featuring deft stop-times and a variant in the bridge. It's also a prime example of the guitarist's musical thrust: passages that kink and twist as they climb, level off to trace a fine degree of detail, then make a leap to heighten the thrills once again.

    Schoenecker switches to classical guitar, on which he displays enviable technique, for his pal Heller's seductive ballad, and again on the saudade-steeped bossa nova "Marie," which he penned for his daughter, born early in '95 (I especially like the way the band, after its leader's tender solo guitar intro, captures the essence of Antonio Carlos Jobim's idiom on that song). Ultra-complimentary Fuller lays out on "Misbehavin'" to give Joachim extra room, which he uses to establish a Kenny Burrrell-ish chord-solo mode before breaking out, every bit the slayer who would stay out late. This is where Goldsby, New York bassist and educator relocated to work with the Koln Radio Big Band and teach at the Musik Hochschule, shows off his fine arco technique, and Hamilton his skill with brushes. "Please Talk After the Beep" is a minor-blues dating from Joachim's school days; his adaptation of "Rhapsody," again showcases Hamilton's brush chops, and the guitaristic value of holding ever-so-slightly back; his buoyant "Back and Forth" means to summon the spirit of Monk. Of course, the shadow of Thelonious, the only-est, hangs over the guitarist's shoulder on his unaccompanied, darkly dramatic and soulful rendition of "'Round Midnight." Joachim vividly evokes, and so, we assume, knows well, those lonely hours after 12, the night owl's restless fantasies and how welcome is the arrival of dawn. "'Round Midnight" was one of Joachim's showcase pieces at the Monk competition, and "My Shining Hour" was another. That irrepressible Harold Arlen melody leads him to unleash even more of his bounty-including faultless articulation, mastery of harmony and harmonics, firm grasp of propulsive chord figures, fearlessness of country twang and frankly upbeat heart. And the band really comes together, too, each member expressing personality aplenty. Forget the brushes, I say, when Hamilton thumps those tubs!

    Ending his first recording with the promise of shining hours to come, Joachim Schoenecker stands tall as a young guitarist of the first order. Busy now back in Germany, fronting his trio (often featuring Goldsby), collaborating with others and teaching at the Jazzhausschule Koln, he's someone who will have more to say, someone to listen for, as you readily understand when you hear him. Common Language delivers the clear message: Joachim Schoenecker's arrived.

 Howard Mandel  Feb. '97 - Down Beat contributing editor