Rising Tide is Frank Kohl’s fourth album as leader, the Seattle-based guitarist slings an especially contemplative vintage of swing. This time he is joined by his NYC quartet of bassist Steve LaSpina, pianist (and brother) Tom Kohl, and drummer Jon Doty
Steve Griggs of Earshot Magazine wrote of his last album, Invisible Man, “While Kohl has clearly mastered technique, his guitar solos sing true with room for breath and emotion.” These sentiments are nowhere truer than on Rising Tide, guaranteeing a truly welcoming experience.
To that end, Rising Tide opens with two original grooves: Rock and Roll and the title track. The former makes for some of the album’s smoothest sailing, while Rising Tide eddies and whirls in its own unique way. Both showcase the bandleader at the height of his compositional powers, expressed in a playing style that is equal parts declaration and implication. Kohl’s wheelhouse is his balladry, which finds ample proof in the sweeter inflections of With Tears of Joy and Richman Poorman. Both are emblematic products of a keen melodician, highlighting the artisanal sound that Kohl painstakingly elicits from his instrument.
Not to be ignored, however, are the contributions of his top-flight sidemen, who from their treasure hunt through Victor Young’s Love Letters emerge with sensitive rewards. My Romance (Rodgers and Hart), for its part, showcases the rhythm section’s effervescent synergy. Like a hot cup of mulled cider on a winter’s evening, it goes down smooth and warms from within, emboldened by a hint of spice: exactly the kind of nostalgia we need in the impending season. Between these standards, Late Night, another Kohl original, shows the band at its interlocking best. Here one gets the nimble improvising of LaSpina, brother Kohl’s delicate pianism, and Doty’s effortless exchanges. As with each Kohl-penned tune, the title almost suggests itself, whispered like a premonition over the waters of his creative spirit.
A solo take on the Victor Young classic, Beautiful Love, closes out the set with barest essentials. The title perfectly describes the depth of Kohl’s playing, which in its unaccompanied state embraces us as we are.
Kohl’s music has all the makings of classic territory, and this album is its ideal topography. Each melody blossoms with a formal yet spontaneous sound built upon heartfelt foundations and quality rapport. To many musicians, smooth exteriors and genuinely emotional interiors make for a difficult balance. In Kohl’s hands, however, such equilibrium feels as inevitable as the music.
The tide may be rising, but on this album’s platform Kohl is riding his way into continued success.