Published in Jazz Improv, V. 4, No. 4 (6/2004)

Mark Kleinhaut Trio with Bobby Watson, A Balance of Light, Invisible Music IM-2031

Released 2003. Recorded January 6 & 7, 2003, Brunswick, Maine.
"Ferdinand and Isabelle"; "Long Look Back"; "Four Lane Clover"; "South of Mason"; "Field of Greens"; "Start It Up"; "Erikita"; "Summers".
Personnel: Mark Kleinhaut, guitar; Bobby Watson, alto saxophone; Jim Lyden, bass; Les Harris, Jr., drums.

Review by Virginia A. Schaefer

Based in southern Maine for decades, guitarist and composer Mark Kleinhaut is a mainstay of jazz in New England but is also active outside the region. On A Balance of Light, Kleinhaut’s fourth recording, he’s joined by renowned alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, as well as frequent collaborators Jim Lyden on bass and Les Harris, Jr. on drums. Watson and Kleinhaut are a good musical match, as each plays with agility and a light but warm tone.

Kleinhaut composed all the pieces on this disc, most of which are taken in a straight-ahead, hard bop-tinged style. Most of them fall into multiple sections of four and eight measures. The opening track, "Ferdinand and Isabelle" has an uptempo samba-like groove. As on most other tracks, Kleinhaut and Watson play in octaves on the melody, which is a lively tune in repeated sections of four measures. Watson takes the first solo in eighth notes and triplet eighths. Kleinhaut characteristically starts his melodic solo in an elegant style and adds eighth-note fill between phrases. "Four Lane Clover" is solidly in the hard-bop vein, again consisting of four- and eight-measure sections, its straight-ahead changes enhanced with a touch of whole-tone scale. After Watson plays a long, interesting solo introduction with fast, turning ornamentation, he plays the melody with Kleinhaut, sometimes doubling at the octave and other times chording. After Kleinhaut’s solo and then Watson’s, bassist Lyden plays a melodic solo.

The group has fun with a laid-back rendition of "South of Mason", which sounds like it’s based on the changes to "Like Someone in Love". The introduction is a good-humored exchange between Kleinhaut and Watson. While Watson solos, Kleinhaut’s strummed comping adds a down-home touch. After Lyden plays a melodic solo, Kleinhaut solos with a strong swing feel. Harris takes a drum solo, trading fours. "Field of Greens" is a hard-bop, Monk-influenced tune based on two six-beat measures followed by five four-beat measures and a chord progression that’s chromatic in places. The group solos on a simplified, sixteen-bar form in 4/4 time.

"Start It Up" is composed of several eight-measure sections, with an interesting displaced short phrase at end of the tune. Unlike the other straight-ahead pieces, it’s in minor and part of it has modal-jazz changes. The piece starts interestingly with Lyden’s two-minute-long, introspective solo; there’s a sharp change of mood when the head starts in an aggressively fast tempo. Less in the hard-bop groove, "Long Look Back" is a ballad with the feel of alternating 6/8 and 3/4 time (and one measure in 4/4). Taken at a slow and dreamy pace, its chord changes imply shifting tonal centers. Kleinhaut solos with sensitivity, using a single line with a bit of polyphony and some bluesy high notes.

"Erikita" is unique on the disc, in sound and style, and in the depth and complexity of feeling it expresses. The minor-mode piece has Spanish-sounding progressions, and it’s played with a tango-like rhythm at a stately pace. On the introduction, Kleinhaut’s sound is closer to an acoustic guitar, and his delicate plucking includes high chords that sound like harmonics. On the head, a saxophone and guitar duet, Lyden plays a striking arco part, alternating a repeated pattern in detached notes and bowing through the and-ONE that launches each measure into the next, and in some spots he joins Watson and Kleinhaut on the melody. On his solo, Watson uses a particularly lovely tone, his plaintive high notes similar to the sound of a soprano sax. Kleinhaut’s solo is ornate but singing, and bluesy in spots.

"Summers", also unique, opens with a single chorus of a folksy tune in 7/4 meter. The scene changes drastically, as Lyden bows a tremolo and Harris taps toms to sound like a brewing storm. Watson joins them, noodling on a pleasant but amorphous tune woven of scraps from the opening melody. Kleinhaut joins the improvising in a background role. Repeated figures on sax and guitar produce a whirling tumult, which could be a summer storm but might also represent a flock of birds, the colors of flowers, or a feeling of agitation. The tumult intensifies toward the end and coalesces into the second and final performance of the melody.