For a long time I’ve admired the sound of jazz duos that consist of just an acoustic and a electric guitar player. The overall sound is smooth and relaxing, but there’s always a manner in which the two instruments blend together that’s hypnotic. I have quite a few of these recordings, and it never occurred to me until now that a bass–either electric or not–would add yet another dimension. I mean, it makes perfect sense, but it wasn’t until I heard The Crossing from guitarist Frank Kohl and his friends, guitarist John Stowell and bassist Steve LaSpina that I felt like I’ve been missing something with those aforementioned duos.
This is purely subjective, of course, but what Frank Kohl accomplishes with his trio in The Crossing is a greater, fuller range of sound, one that is still tight with each of the musicians floating in and out of the melody like helices. Do you need LaSpina‘s bass to feel complete? No, not necessarily, but expanding this sound into a trio with greater bass fundamentals is, to me, more engaging. A duo requires more of an entry point, a slight mental adjustment that comes from realizing that you have to crawl into the sound a bit to understand completely. That bass, simply enough, lets the music wash over you in a more effortless manner.
Frank Kohl, if he ever reads this, might wonder why I’m obsessing over the structure of this ensemble so much. I’m sure this is a common enough type of trio, and I bet I could even find quite a few of these trios in my present music collection. It must be the fact that Kohl, Stowell and LaSpina are so closely in tune with each other, and that their intuition is strong enough to anticipate the difference between an individual idea and moving forward together like a well-oiled machine.
The Crossing, a mix of Frank Kohl’s original compositions and standards, is a masterclass in how to be seamless. It’s about being carried off on a magic carpet of sound. Most importantly, these three musicians maintain a wonderful sense of rhythm and beat mostly without percussion (the bodies of the hollow wooden instruments comes in handy), which is fascinating in the Latin jazz tunes such as Jobim’s “O Grande Amour.” The Crossing, therefore, isn’t so much about filling a missing piece. It’s about finding a minimum number of participants needed to be complete and utterly satisfying.