Jonathan Freilich’s guitar work and compositions are the sound of modern jazz in New Orleans. Although sometimes abstract and angular, they have rhythmic bounce and melodic sense that is much more accessible than similar music made in other settings and still reflect the best New Orleans music. His new album, Electric Eggplant, features musicians who are more than adept at exploring these Freilich trademarks while walking the fine line between composition and improvisation that his tunes demand. Saxophonist Skerik harnesses his wide range of sound and keeps it mostly inside except for the occasional hog-call when the tunes demand it, such as the excellently titled “Blues for Krishnamurthi” (Freilich has some of the best titles in jazz.). Vibraphonist Mike Dillon’s playing gives the album a light, hip touch that makes the songs sound eternally modern in a good way, while Stanton Moore pushes and pulls the beat without calling too much attention to his presence.
As always, Freilich’s guitar is a beautiful adventure. A listener has some idea where his playing and songs are going, but it’s never obvious how he will get there or what unexpected textures and timbres he will use along the way. This, in some ways, is the essence of jazz. Whether moving through the driving propulsion of “Musings on Altered Stops” or weaving lines through the abstractions of “Where Do You Store Tension,” Freilich and his band have made a recording that one can listen to many times and still feel like there are new musical ideas to be revealed.