In establishing his own musical voice for the first time to the world with Zembla Variations, Ginsburg sounds maybe a little like each of these, but the composite effect has him sounds like none of them. Sure, there's a standard jazz quartet filled out by George Colligan on piano and Rhodes, Eli Degibri on tenor and soprano saxophones and Rudy Royston on drums, but these eight original songs are beyond the standard fare of jazz. Ginsburg shows a great deal of sophistication in constructing advanced harmonies that don't veer off the path. Non-linear, twisting and punchy melodies are often matched to conventional tempos and at other times, tricky time signatures are married to straightforward melodies. The meticulousness of big band arrangements find their way into every song, so it's easy to forget there's just four of them performing.
Pushbar (For Emergency Exit)" is the right leadoff track as it pulls together many facets of Ginsburg's method of song construction: the animation, the multidirectional pacing and his own, slinky, bouncing bass lines. Zembia Variations," the title track, breaks from the formula a bit by taking a figure, repeating it over and over, but allowing each band member to improvise around that repeating progression, resulting in those interesting 'variations.' 10,000 Leagues" swings, but in an ultra-modern way. Red Giant" swings too, but at a breakneck pace. Koan" is as urbane as ballads go, but following Ginsburg's sprawling bass line reveals there's more to the song that only adds to its perplexity, and Colligan plays an appropriately crisp solo. Jakewalk" is a more traditional, blues-infused jazz where most of the action is coming from the bomb-filled drums of Royston.
Each song attacks in a different way, but held together by Ginsburg's consistently inventive ways to start with what has been done before and shake it up a bit to lead listeners out toward the frontier. He does so without going much so far out front that they lose sight of him and his conceptions. That makes Zembla Variations a fully realized debut that manages to entertain while it goes exploring.
Zembla Variations goes on sale February 7 by Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records. You can purchase the album from the BJUR site or CDBaby, when available. Visit Josh Ginsburg's website.