I recently got a call from an old friend from my “guitar grapevine” to consider reviewing a new CD on JazzGuitarSociety.com . Craig Sharmat is a fellow Musician’s Institute (then GIT) graduate and besides decades of successful film scoring, has both a number of smooth jazz chart topping CDs under his own name and a new CD coming out soon from his new passion in life, a great gypsy jazz group called The Idiomatiques. He had recently moved to Santa Barbara CA from LA, and said that he had asked around to find out who the local great guitar players were, and that he found a guy named Daniel Zimmerman who Scott Henderson (another fellow MI grad buddy) was really impressed with. He asked if I would take a listen to the CD, and since those are two hard to impress guys (especially Scott, we used to share a house together and I know what his standards are), I said to have Daniel send it on to me.
I was expecting a very “chops driven” CD, but what I got was actually actually a really well written and sensitively performed body of music, that also happened to be by a really great guitarist. “Drifting Home” is an apt title, because the whole thing flows from start to finish in a sort of dreamy “Americana fusion jazz country with a little semi-classical jumbo”, that’s sort of like a modern film noir detective film score searching for a film hip enough to support it. Daniel owes as much to some of the newer Bill Frisell projects with his long brooding tremolo drenched melodies and chordal playing, as he does to Scott Henderson’s hip post bop intervalic melodic minor phrasing, and he has that perfect “just crunching and sustaining enough” tone that so many guitarists strive for but few achieve. I would say that anyone that’s a fan of Frisell and Henderson, as well as guitarists like Allen Hinds, Drew Zingg, Robben Ford and Mike Landau are going to really like this guy.
The CD opens with drummer Luis Munoz laying down a sort of tom-tom driven march for “The Hangman” to begin, with trumpeter Jonathan Dane cadenza-ing into Zimmerman’s “ultra hip detective chords”. The CD is impeccably recorded, so every note on every instrument is clear as a bell, and so Brendon Statom’s well conceived upright bass lines are in your face but allow the long reverb of Zimmerman’s guitar to swell all around everything. Zimmerman shows his command of harmony as well of the guitar in his really cool lines while Dane blows bluesy and wailing, so you can totally see the prisoner in the old Western being led to the gallows.
This melts mournfully into “Erasure”, a total Frisell-esque beautifully bleak landscape, with Daniel’s tremolo melody telling the story. You really hear the Henderson type intervallic lines in this one, it’s one of my favorites here. The mood of the tune is constantly changing and once again, the writing is excellent – this is the kind of thing you could put on late at night to listen to with your girlfriend (or boyfriend) that “hates jazz”.
“Home” opens up with a feeling of dawn and hope, with Daniel’s wistful volume swells leading the band into the subtle shading of the 3/4 tune’s chord progression. Statom plays very nice sparse introspective solo, and then Zimmerman delivers another sparse but really well crafted solo over the changes of the tune. He closes the track by himself drenched in reverb and closes with a high questioning chord, leading right into “Mosquitos”, which starts with what I think may well be a really soft but high pitched vibrato high up on his first string that was looped, totally imitating the insect.
“Mosquitos” keeps the “BBL” (beautifully bleak landscape, of course) vibe going, with lots of great sound effects and crazy chords and arpeggios from Daniel’s guitar. Never one to sacrifice the mood to show off the chops that you know he has, Daniel plays a number of totally in the pocket bluesy solos, doing a little dialog with George Friedenthal’s electric piano, and finishing with Brendon’s bass by itself.
“Kim’s Song” shows us all that Zimmerman must have definitely put in a lot of hours on legit classical guitar playing. He uses what I think is his miced foot tapping as a percussion track through the whole thing, with only Statom’s bass to accompany him. This is a really nice melody, and it’s place at the perfect place in the record as a sort of “sherbet course” to refresh your palette for the rest of the music to come.
And so back to “bluesy Americana-ville” with “Nate’s Plate”, a quirky 3/4 rootsy blues track that must be really fun to do live. I always love to hear people do their own take on any of the many blues forms there are in the world, and both Zimmerman and Statom and organist Brian Mann split a chorus. The feel here is very swampy with a little bit of New Orleans, but Daniel’s harmonic sensibilities keep things hip and modern throughout.
I really heard a lot of the amazing Ralph Towner in Daniel’s nylon string playing (and writing) in “The Two Cats”, including that but dark warm tone that Ralph has. The song starts off as a tango but morphs into something much more. The chord changes when the tune transforms are totally Towner-esque, and Jonathan Dane comes back for a long brooding solo, with Zimmerman doing another poignant chordal transformation to a short restatement of the tango to go out.
“Drifting Away” starts with Brendon Statom doing a duet with himself into the bittersweet guitar theme. There’s lots of Americana tremolo chords, with Zimmerman also playing perfect piano counterparts to himself on guitar. The way he handles the interesting chord progression shows the sign of an improvisor that really knows harmony and the options he has on how to shade it. This is another of my favorites here, but really this is a record that should be listened to as a whole, because each track leads in and out of each other so well.
The closer “Ghosts” is sort of the guitarist sonically saying anything that he either left out or wanted to comment on a little more. It starts with him laying out a solo statement, and then the band coming in with Munoz adding some very interesting shaken percussion to his drum set. Always the masterful composer above everything else, Daniel never lets any section go on too long, but is always there with a change of course. The ending chordal section on his guitar is like a wave goodbye has it leaves off into the sunset.
So that’s it – as I said at the beginning, I was really surprised and refreshed at the sheer musicality of the whole record here, the musicianship of the band, and of course the playing and composing of guitarist Daniel Zimmerman. If I gave CDs stars, this would get five – I’m sure that I will listen to this for years to come….particularly if I get a girlfriend that needs to be gently introduced to jazz 😉
Sept. 11, 2017
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