Feels So Good!
Grant Geissman is a musician you’ve probably never heard of, but you’ve probably heard. Most likely you know his highly regarded solo on “Feels So Good”, the massive international hit by Chuck Mangione. With great sound and a performance to match, it was an audiophile grade production that crossed over to broad commercial success. Mangione’s group, the producer and recording engineer caught lightning in a bottle. Though many would consider it “light” or even “easy listening”, it’s finely crafted pop-jazz that holds up to close inspection.
Geissman is a performer and composer and can be heard on television, including the theme songs for Two and a Half Men (which he co-wrote) and Monk, plus contributions to Dawson’s Creek, Boy Meets World, Touched by an Angel and Lizzie McGuire. In the ‘70s, he made appearances on The Tonight Show, Merv Griffin, Phil Donahue, The Midnight Special and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.
Allmusic.com lists sixteen albums as a leader, and puts him in 8 different musical styles, along with Jazz, Classical and New Age as his genres. Besides his musical endeavors, he is a published author, with books on Mad (the magazine) and EC Comics.
Geissman’s latest album is Bop! Bang! Boom!, FR-2055 from Futurism Records. Bernie Grundman gets the mastering credits on this two-LP, gatefold issue, and is limited to 500 180G pressings. The retro artwork is very eye-catching, and the jacket a pleasure to hold in my hands.
Geissman brings along well-regarded musicians on this journey: Albert Lee, Larry Carlton, Tom Scott, Mike Finnigan, Russell Ferrante, Brian Scanlon, Emilio Palame, Tom Ranier, Jim Cox, Corey Allen, Greg Mathieson, Trey Henry, Kevin Axt, Leland Sklar, Ray Brinker, Alex Acuna, Brian Kilgore, Dennis C. Brown, Chuck Lorre, Doug Lacey, and Van Dyke Parks.
The constant for this set is variety. Every track is different and some are jarringly different! My music theory teacher said that counterpoint, a set of musical techniques most prominently employed during the Baroque, and still being used to this day, could be boiled down to unity and variety. Jazz improvisation uses some of the same techniques. In this case, we have unity, Grant Geissman and his guitar, and variety, constantly changing forms and genres. It’s a recipe for success.
“Boom” is a funky tune, with sax and guitar opening on a difficult unison line, interrupted by momentary dissonances which POP! This track, along with “The Singularity”, seems to channel Thelonious Monk. The lines are hard, lean, occasionally dissonant, and angular.
The tonal center in “The Singularity” is often avoided for multiple bars, cranking up the intensity, and making the tonal resolution much more rewarding. Something about “The Singularity” also reminded me of Eric Dolphy, though I couldn’t put a finger on it. The tune’s name comes from the theoretical point at which computers surpass the intelligence of humans (they say approximately 2045; I say it might’ve happened several years ago, judging by the state of the world).
“Q Tip”, a boogaloo piece, eschews some of the excesses of the ‘60s craze. I’m not a big fan of boogaloo, but Geissman takes it more seriously than his Blue Note forebears, who were merely cashing in on the latest musical fad. The tune is dedicated to Quincy Jones, AKA “Q”. The guitar playing is dexterous, and the unison playing by the musicians is particularly clean. Judging from the unison playing throughout these tracks, I get the impression the musicians spent ample time in preparation.
“Un Poco Español”, is as the title implies, a Spanish flavored piece. The sound of the acoustic guitar is gorgeous; the chord progressions are rich and full bodied; the acoustical space is airy, with warm ambience.
“Go to the Window” features the electric sitar (yes, an electric sitar) and the tablas of Brian Kilgore. This is a boffo track. Geissman makes the sitar rock (or jazz as the case may be)! The sitar has always been an instrument for improvising, and in the context of jazz, it adds its varying tonal colors as an element of improvisation. The bass line pushes the tune straight ahead, and ensemble reminds me of the Pat Metheny Group, at its best. Alex Acuna and Ray Brinker serve up virtuoso percussion that is surprisingly clean, measured and dynamic. It’s a toe-tapper.
“Good Morning Mr Phelps”, another high point on this album, definitely has a TV show theme-song quality to it. The title comes from a phrase uttered at the beginning of every episode of Mission Impossible (according to the liner notes). Something here reminds me of “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow”, theme from Baretta. The style is “TV private investigator-ish”. The soprano sax solo by Brian Scanlon helps rehabilitate the image of the instrument, so tarnished by the likes of Kenny G. Russ Ferrante plays a snappy solo on the Fender Rhodes piano, one of my favorite instruments. Geissman channels Wes Montgomery, one of his big influences.
“$25 Stella” ups the oddity factor with Van Dyke Parks on accordion and Trey Henry on tuba. Accordion and tuba? Why not! Both have been used in jazz way more than you know. Actually, with Doug Lacey also on accordion, we have dualing accordions. The tune is hillbilly-jazz, for lack of a better description. It even has a washboard, spoons and a hubcap. The piano even sounds like one pulled from an old west barroom. Yee haw, daddy-o!
“Texas Shuffle” is a rocking, progressive, country-jazz sounding concoction that took me by surprise. Geissman, Albert Lee and Larry Carlton trade guitar solos. Greg Mathieson plays the Hammond B-3, king of the instruments. It brought The Allman Brothers to mind, which should be a complement to the musicians. Sprinkle in a hint of Aja (Steely Dan), and you might hear what I hear.
“Samba En Menor” has a Sergio Mendes vibe. It’s Geissman on acoustic and Brian Scanlon on flute. The sound is Brazilian, as you would expect. The samba here is more developed than the stereotypical samba of the ‘60s. Think “a samba recorded on ECM”. There’s nothing plain or vanilla about the arrangements or musicianship on any of these tracks, though the musicians do pay homage to classic styles and other players. It’s in the best tradition of jazz.
“Guitarism” is a favorite tune here, a solo flamenco piece, with echoes of the southwest US. Geissman overdubs two classical guitars and “palmas”, the clapping you hear in flamenco. The touch and tone are excellent.
“Take Yer Time” features Geissman, Dennis Brown and Chuck Lorre (the TV producer) on guitar. This is the only tune I didn’t really dig, mostly because the horribly stupid Viagra commercials have ruined this “white man wanna play the blues” guitar riff. It’s okay, though these guys will never make it as blues players. Some Jeff Beck fans will probably love it. By the way, a recent Viagra commercial feature’s “Dimples” by John Lee Hooker. Sorry, but John Lee Hooker never needed nothin’ for no “ED”. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Boom Boom”.
The set closes with “Off The Grid”, which reminds me of GE Smith and the SNL band. It’s brilliantly clean, all the way through, with an especially nice sax solo from Tom Scott and B-3 solo from Jim Cox. The liner notes describe it as a “shuffle-swing”.
While the album pays homage to many, and also borrows from Geissman’s musical heroes, the album is neither trite nor derivative. It’s solid jazz, with a couple tunes that are “good”, not great. At its best, it engages your mind and toe, and is rewarding music that bears repeated listening. Though it’s not recorded with audiophiles in mind (specifically), the sound is very clean and open, with enough warmth and ambiance to make it forgiving on a bright system. Dynamics and bass are well above average. The pressings were quiet and packaging was fantastic.
If you’re interested in equal parts Wes Montgomery, tongue-in-cheek, ECM, cops and robbers, Eastern/Indian, angularity, hard bop, fusion, pop and jazz, then you’ll want this album.
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