One of the wonderful things about jazz is the ‘sound of surprise.

Double Moon Records DMCHR 71414

Gilles Grethen (guitar); Vincent Pinn (trumpet, flugelhorn); Gabriele Basilico (double bass); Michael Meis (drums)

Classical meets jazz in Luxembourg guitarist Gilles Grethen new recording STATE OF MIND.

Grethen’s quartet plus an 11 piece orchestra carry on in the tradition of “Charlie Parker and Strings” and, maybe the greatest jazz classical collaboration, Stan Getz’s “Focus.”

Since the age of four Grethen was only playing classical music but fell in love with jazz guitar as a teenager. He lists Wes Montgomery and Grant Green as influences.

Gilles Grethen studied at the University of Music Saar in Saarbrucken. This is where he met two of his bandmates, drummer Michael Meis, and Italian bassist Gabriele Basilico. This trio format changed when he invited German trumpeter Vincent Pinn to join.

Grethen composed STATE OF MIND in the form of a classical suite. There’s a theme that holds all ten pieces on the album together. There’s a harmony that runs through the pieces and melodies keep reappearing. Most of the pieces start out slowly and quietly.

The first piece ‘Change’ starts with a full sounding symphony. Vincent Pinn’s trumpet joins in making it sound like a beautiful Baroque piece. The drummer, bass, and guitar improvise quietly and beautifully until cascading violins and cello end the piece.

For me, that theme that holds everything together is the problem. You hear the same rhythms, harmony, and melody and that was the intention but it creates a “sameness.” Quite often the string players seem to mirror what the improvisers are playing. There’s not much tension between the two groups.

The few surprises on STATE OF MIND come from drummer Michael Meis. He’s one of the most interesting drummers I’ve heard in a while. On one cut he’s pushing the beat along with one stick and a snare. Next piece he’s using every bit of his drum kit.

I listened to Focus again just as a comparison. Eddie Sauter arranged the parts for the strings and left blank spots for the improvisers. Gilles Grethen did the same thing. Sauter’s string arrangements are dark, shimmering, and full of surprises. Grethen’s arrangements are, well, pretty.

There are videos of the Gilles Grethen Quartet online. These four are great players. You can hear the Montgomery and Green influences in Grethen’s playing, but he’s also developed his own strong voice on guitar.

One of the wonderful things about jazz is the ‘sound of surprise.’ I’m looking forward to hearing more from the Gilles Grethen Quartet but I wish STATE OF MIND had a few more surprises to offer.

Reviewed by Tim Larsen