If you didn’t know anything about Jake Hertzog’s new, March 29, 2016 release, Well Lit Shadow (That’s Out Music), you’d find the 10 solo electric guitar instrumentals quite tame in the intimidating world of contemporary jazz. His quiet, single-minded exploration is tantamount to feeling a welcome stranger entering your dreams at night, poking and prodding around the outskirts, creating a tantric backdrop for adventure. The original music found here is mostly calm, meditative, and far from intrusive.
Hertzog’s intent for the album, however, is another matter entirely. Particle matter, actually. Well Lit Shadow is actually about the inner world of particle physics through exquisite, emotive music. Each composition seeks to portray what it must be like to literally be in this microscopic world of entries, collisions, and exits, and what that means for greater humanity as a whole. Heady stuff for such a young, jazz-rock artist who once played lead guitar on Nickelodeon’s The Naked Brothers Band.
Hertzog sits comfortably in rock circles, having co-led the Young Presidents onto the top of the mainstream radio charts and on MTV/VH1. The Young Presidents recently released a major hit album, Coalition, and its hit single, “Time,” with Ivan Neville as a guest vocalist. Other guest artists were Corey Glover (Living Colour), Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys), Adam Ezra, and Anton Fig (“The David Letterman Show”). Hertzog’s co-songwriting skills definitely came in handy with the ever-elusive, coveted youth demo.
Outside of this mainstream claim to fame, Hertzog received critical attention from Guitar Player as “…the blazing wunderkind” and “one of the finest young jazz guitarists on the scene.” These are accolades the young, modern jazz-rock guitarist has earned with each recording. His previous album, Throwback on Zoho Music, gained him a bigger jazz audience and monster jazz cred. Hertzog had Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker guest star and Grammy-winning Rob Fraboni (Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Wayne Shorter) produce on the record.
Produced as a suite with nine sections not including a brief, gauzy intro, Hertzog’s current, solo release — Well Lit Shadow’s dissertation on particle collisions, their make-up and after-effects — may have you scratching your head about the deeper, inner meaning but relaxing anyway because the music itself is chill.
It’s chill until halfway in when Hertzog interrupts his steady gaze into the abyss with a hyperkinetic percussive, scratching interlude in the midst of “Cable Cars.” “Cable Cars” is about “multiple collisions, and then goes through a chaotic period after the events. It ends with a question mark, a brief calm before the next burst of energy.” It is the jazz album’s hit single, a break in the serenity, a welcome storm, and Hertzog’s time to shine.
He churns up such a mesmerizing, musical, rock moment by manipulating his fingers and hands to almost chop at the guitar.
“What We Found” also goes for that same break in the calm but as a kind of Flamenco dance of continuous motion.
It’s hard to believe humans and their hopeless love stories aren’t the subject of this composition. It’s a deeper, “most literal” look at “the path of a particle, escalating in speed and intensity right up until the moment of collision. After the impact, the descending chromatic fallout from the event leads into wandering notes that are the last traces of the collision. Its gentle ending signifies the peaceful harmony when all the residuals of the impact have faded.”
If a scientist knew how to play guitar, Well Lit Shadow might be what came out of the lab. Tons of jazz musicians are amateur scientists, former geeks of Physics, Math, and Computer Sciences. They have to be, in order to best navigate the physics of jazz as a basis of technique.
Jacob Hertzog, also known as a regular contributor by the alias Hey Jazz Guy in Guitar Player’s “Lessons” section, manages to evoke feeling in the purely logical world of physics and particle collisions. That’s quite a feat.
Quotes from the liner notes and a press release from Two For The Show Media.