Montana cousins David Peterson and Lee and Rob Kohler went their separate ways 45 years ago after high school. Peterson, a guitarist under the spell of Abercrombie and Metheny, has subsequently performed with an impressive list of contemporary giants including Art Lande, Paul McCandless and Dave Friesen, while the Kohlers are part of a large Northwestern family of musicians and educators. Rounding out the group are the non-familial John Bishop, Origin Records co-founder and drummer to Hal Galper, and versatile saxophonist Brent Jensen, who partners Bishop in their longstanding group Wellstone Conspiracy.
Hardly a reunion in the conventional sense, Winter Colors is more opportunity for the cousins to reflect on the the many shared musical connections which have shaped their lives. Peterson's sharp writing and soloing provides the principal creative impetus, but that doesn't mean that Winter Colors is anything less of a collective endeavour. The guitarist's duo with Lee Kohler on his wintery minor-key opener suggests a partnership with lots more to give, while I Need You Too showcases the full ensemble, Jensen's lyrical alto riding Bishop's soft Latin groove and taking us to altogether warmer climes.
Rise Up is a relaxed foray into funk, its many chordal twists introducing a pleasing air of unpredictability. Rob Kohler's Graceful, a classic ballad that could have been written any time in the last 100 years, is particularly strong, while M&M Blues, written by the Kohlers' late father John, is as quirky as it is playful. Grey Mist is the first of two short and highly focused group improvisations. It's less angular and pointillistic than White Flurries and the outlines of its structure are never too far from view. Perhaps the most spellbinding writing of the set comes with Peterson's The Wind Has Gone Down, an introspective ballad redolent of the late Kenny Wheeler, though the golden hued Midwestern Americana of his closing Solstice Song are scarcely any less accomplished.
A beautifully unpretentious celebration of the joys of making music, Winter Colors proves that you don't always need to shout to be heard clearly.