OA2 Records, October 2023
BY ROBERT HAM
Frank Kohl hasn’t stepped out on his own much during his lengthy career. In fact, it took him until 2020 to release an album of solo guitar recordings — a decision driven more by circumstance than anything else, as it was made during the COVID lockdowns. Having leapt over that first hurdle under his own steam, Kohl has reached some kind of comfort level with going it alone as he has returned this year with Pacific, another collection of material featuring nothing more than his lissome guitar work.
The wonder and terror of playing solo is leaving oneself with little room for error. And for a guitarist, they’re left without a rhythm instrument keeping their tempo in check. There’s little concern here about the former as Kohl has built up four decades worth of experience that he applies to this gorgeous mix of original compositions and standards. His command of his chosen instrument is the stuff of magic. Jump straight to Kohl’s take on the Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice.” The quick pangs of dissonance that jut into this all-too-familiar melody have a bracing effect, snapping listeners back to attention in time to catch him plucking out another quick run of notes followed by a demonstrative strum.
Not having a drummer or bassist to hem Kohl in is all feature and no bug. As he told All About Jazz this past September, “l like the more meditative part of it, where if you have the melody inside of you, you can forget about the fact that maybe you just put six beats in the last bar or that you’re changing the time as you go.” His loose sense of rhythm throughout Pacific is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s solo recordings. It seems to be something Kohl is at least somewhat aware of as he chose to record a version of “Memories of Tomorrow,” a piece from Jarrett’s legendary Köln Concert album. The guitarist adds a bit more swing to the song even as he stretches out the upturning melody with injections of negative space and sharply ringing chords.
It is Kohl’s originals, though, that find the various strains of his innumerable talents braided together best. He lets “With Tears of Joy,” a piece written in honor of his grandchildren, float and flicker like a campfire spark taking to the air. And by returning to “I Know I’ll See You Again,” a piece he first recorded in 1981, he finds fresh inspiration in its downward spiraling lines and a nostalgic warmth flecked with touches of bemusement about its inspiration being a long-since forgotten lover. As with his playing throughout Pacific, he’s matured greatly since then.