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It’s been 10 years since NPR dubbed Nir Felder “The Next Big Jazz Guitarist.” In that time, he released his estimable debut as a leader, Golden Age, in 2014, and now delivers his sophomore effort, II.
Six years is a considerable gap between albums, which, judging by II, gave Felder ample time to fill a large satchel with compositional, sonic and studio ideas. The result is an album that seems over-thought and is ultimately overwrought. Most of the tunes are stuffed with contrasting melodic motifs, jarring changes, odd-meter rhythms, spacey synth interludes and overdubbed textural sequences. Felder, 37, layers on the added instrumental parts himself.
A prime example is the closer, “War Theory.” The piece starts promisingly, with a set of majestic chords, but then gives way to a series of busy, sprinkling arpeggios. The song alternates between these two modes for a spell before introducing a crunchy rock riff, followed by a thick synth wash and Jimmy Macbride’s taut, odd-meter drumming. And that’s just the first third of a nearly nine-minute composition. “Big Heat” begins as a pumping shuffle à la Jeff Beck, disassembles into a maelstrom of awkward feints and jabs, then evolves into a bop sprint. (He should’ve stuck with the shuffle.)
There are exceptions. “Coronation” is a slow-burn strut built on a seductive chord melody that nods to Hendrix. Felder’s jazz-toned, rock-leaning solos are well paced and deliver a few goosebump crescendos. Matt Penman’s acoustic bass solo is a welcome touch. The opener, “The Longest Star” — although it owes a bit too much to early Pat Metheny — is warmly melodic and succinct at just under three minutes. Felder’s instrumental prowess is evident throughout, but the deluge of ideas often obscures his playing and prevents it from finding a consistent flow. He would have done well to spread the solo spotlight around more. II feels like an ambitious project that got out of hand. — Eric SniderPhoto credit Justin Bettman