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Most jazz guitar these days sounds like background schmaltz for local forecast interludes on the Weather Channel. But Arlington’s Paul Bollenback provides some bite to go with his chops on his debut album, Original Visions. Bollenback honed his skills playing with organist Joey DeFrancesco and saxophonist Gary Thomas, but his own debut was delayed by a busy schedule. Diligence at last landed him a deal with the Dutch label Challenge Records. “I had pursued (a deal) in a very off-and-on fashion, mostly because of having to raise a family and being really busy around here, locally, and working with Joey DeFrancesco and Gary Thomas,” Bollenback explains. “Those things kept me really tied up for a number of years.” Plus, Bollenback’s desire for his music to be a fresh tributary branching away from the staid mainstream didn’t make him an obvious major-label choice. “In a lot of ways, the record labels, especially the big record labels right now, are looking for safe bets,” he says. “They’re not looking for somebody who’s maybe got a slightly different vocabulary, musically.”
Bollenback’s sound touches on the edgy fluidity John McLaughlin displayed on Extrapolation and early Mahavishnu Orchestra records. (Bollenback acknowledges the influence, dedicating “India Gate” to McLaughlin.) Visions features his bosses DeFrancesco and Thomas, but drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is the album’s star. On the album opener, “Blues Thang,” Bollenback lets Carrington start the song with nearly a minute of loose-limbed drum soloing despite it being Bollenback’s solo debut. “When you get players at that level, you have to let them play!” he laughs. “What are you gonna do? ‘This is my record, just stay back there and keep a beat!’ I don’t like that. I’ve been very fortunate to almost always work with leaders who want me to contribute a large part to the input of the music.”
Bollenback recently found room in his schedule for one more gig—a weekly Friday- and Saturday-night engagement with vocalist Linda Cordray at DeCarlo’s. “We split the set,” Bollenback explains. “I play half-a-set of solo guitar, which, of course, is always challenging. Then she comes up and does her portion of the set, but it’s not really background music. We really get a nice crowd in there. CP