The superb young Chicago guitarist and composer Hans Luchs has recently released his first album, "Time Never Pauses". Luchs is a guitarist of considerable originality, and his unique performance style is echoed in the compositions he has written for this debut, which also includes pieces by Duke Ellington and Cole Porter.
Mr. Luchs has an original, wide-ranging and captivating compositional voice, and the album is interpreted by his band with finely etched brilliance. Richly colored with guitar harmonics, the opening of the first track, "Der Lumenmeister" (dedicated to Hans's father, Helmut Luchs) is an immediate introduction to the intricate subtleties of his musical imagination. A delicate intro leads to a 12/8 theme which is alternately assertive and reserved, anchored by unison lines on bass and the low register of the piano. Luchs and pianist Stu Mindeman provide fine solos, and this track includes percussionist Juan Pastor, in his only appearance on the album, playing congas and adding an animated dimension to the prevailing Afro-Cuban feel.
"Elizabeth" is a lyrical tribute to the composer's mother, graced with a theme played by trumpeter Shaun Johnson, whose lovely, mellow tone captures and complements the spirit of the piece. Luchs plays an elegant, finely-proportioned solo.
Following a brief introduction, the theme of "Green DeLuchs" (the album's earliest composition) is initially stated by trumpet accompanied by drums alone, a fitting showcase for the excellent playing of Johnson and drummer George Fludas, both of whom contribute fine solos as well.
"Tuesday Night Delivery" has a somewhat bop-ish, high-energy theme adorned with trills and a nifty little segue passage for unaccompanied piano, and features that instrument and the guitar in a pair of excellent solos.
There are two trios here for guitar, bass and drums, beautiful and searching tributes to two great composers: Ellington's "Come Sunday" and Cole Porter's "Get Out Of Town". These two pieces strip the music down to its essence and exploit a delicate, intimate interplay among the three musicians. Luchs plays some of his most introspective solos on these two tracks. "Come Sunday" is nicely balanced and complemented by the Cole Porter number, which features a gorgeous guitar arrangement, and both pieces make excellent use of the guitar's low end, which blends with the bass to create some deliciously deep sonorities. (It's nice to be reminded, from time to time, that the guitar does indeed possess a low end, and Mr. Luchs often uses the instrument's deeper register to great advantage.) Both pieces feature fine solos by bassist Clark Sommers who plays superbly throughout the album.
As pointed out in the liner notes, "Taylor Street Swing" is a "simple tune and a simple arrangement"; as indicated by the title, it is one of the easier-swinging pieces in this collection, a delightful, relaxed tune with brief but tasty solos for trumpet, guitar and piano.
Though Luchs is well-versed in the traditions of jazz, some of the pieces here stand a little outside of that tradition—utilizing it more as springboard than template—much as his guitar playing shows a bedrock-solid familiarity with jazz forms and norms, but occasionally - and seamlessly - sidesteps into more idiosyncratic spaces, or imports licks from rock or blues guitar styles. The album includes several groove-oriented pieces, including "Lumenmeister"; also in this vein there is "January Spring", which has a down-tempo funk feel, as well as a pair of driving 6/8 numbers. In "Hello Janssen", a groove of rock-like insistence is skillfully underscored by being contrasted with more delicate interjections. In both that piece and "30 Rue Des Martyrs", also based on a 6/8 groove, pianist Stu Mindeman shines with some brilliant soloing, and Fludas contributes a pair of fiery drum solos - accompanied by the band (which is somewhat uncharacteristic in jazz for no apparent reason) in "Janssen", unaccompanied in "Martyrs". Once again, the groove is intermittently abandoned, smoldering under the surface at times in quieter, subdued passages in which it is intimated rather than stated outright, an effective strategy that is a particular demonstration of the exacting craftiness of Mr. Luchs's compositional approach generally.
Luchs plays with a subtlety of tone and attack that allows him to double the trumpet very effectively; in fact, my ear was initially fooled into thinking there was, in places, a second wind instrument, or that the trumpet had been doubled through overdubbing (for instance, in "Tuesday Night Delivery"). As mentioned above, his guitar style, though very conversant with jazz traditions, also shows some very interesting and unique qualities, e.g., a somewhat obsessive-sounding use of repeating patterns (often of three notes) which "modulate", so to speak - that is, are reiterated at (usually) higher-pitched starting points; and he varies his mostly smooth-as-silk lines with ones that are aggressively angular and which stray outside of the expected tonal limits of the harmonic context: pushed not to the point of atonality, but certainly to the point of substantial chromaticism and harmonic ambiguity. Both of these aspects of his style are very delightful to this listener.
Hans Luchs is closely aligned with a number of fine young musicians from Chicago, and he is an important player in that city's lively and exciting jazz scene. On the evidence of his debut album, "Time Never Pauses", we can look forward to many years of inventive and well-crafted music from this fine young artist.