Deep Breath is the latest offering from Chicago-based guitarist Kenny Reichert. Out now on Shifting Paradigm Records, this sophomore effort is a masterful showcase of Reichert’s musicianship and versatility as a performer, composer, and bandleader. Reichert summoned a stellar cast of musicians including woodwind specialist Tony Barba, vocalist Alyssa Allgood, bassist John Christensen, and drummer Devin Drobka. With a unique blend of jazz, folk, classical, and avant-garde influences, Deep Breath takes listeners on a musical journey.
Although Deep Breath marks Reichert’s first album since his self-released debut Interpretations (2015), he has been anything but dormant. Moves from his native Milwaukee to London, Berlin, and Chicago have been interspersed with sideman recordings such as Johannes Wallmann’s Love Wins (2017, Fresh Sound) and restless touring with the jazz-folk duo Sara and Kenny across North America and Europe. Since his arrival in Chicago in the summer of 2021, Reichert has been quickly building his profile and sharing the stage alongside many notable Midwestern jazz artists including Russ Johnson, Geof Bradfield, Alyssa Allgood, Johannes Wallmann, Clark Sommers, Ethan Philion, Christy Bennett, Artie Black, Tony Barba, and Devin Drobka.
Deep Breath features a polished ensemble working their way through Reichert’s compositions. The influence of diverse genres has proven fruitful for Reichert, giving him a vast source of inspiration that is displayed through the album’s music. A range of moods are brought forth through melodic guitar work, an imaginative rhythm section, thoughtfully crafted saxophone and bass clarinet solos, emotive vocals, and electric group interplay. This music was inspired by a collection of reflections between September 2021 and June 2022. Reichert says, “Periodically, I find it important to check in with myself and ruminate on my life. Every song on this album comes from these meditations, representing various moments over the past several years.”
The album opens with “Mirage,” a catchy and grooving track with a strong, memorable melody. “Communion with Nature” changes pace, starting with Drobka’s inspired acoustic-electronic drum performance and morphing into a contemplative piece. Reichert composed the song as a call for humankind to have more consideration for our planet and its well-being.
“Spears” is a raw and angular blues reminiscent of the music of Thelonious Monk. The band takes turns through a series of exciting solos, exploring the boundaries between tonality and dissonance. “Bashful” is a lush and romantic ballad that welcomes Alyssa Allgood’s lyrics and tender vocals with Barba and Reichert both sharing mature and thoughtful solos.
“Deep Breath” is a tone poem that Reichert composed as a reminder to slow down in an increasingly busy world. After an atmospheric guitar introduction, the band morphs through a free-flowing and introspective spoken word section by Allgood. Finally, Barba performs a searing soprano saxophone solo over an intricate bed of shifting harmonies. “How’s It Going?” presents a buoyant waltz that calls upon memories of the music of Bill Evans. Reichert and Barba both play outstanding solos, capitalizing on the spirited interplay offered by Christensen and Drobka.
“I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About You” showcases the sound of group exploration that is reminiscent of the music of Paul Motian. Delicate, but inspired, the track features all members of the ensemble engaging in a free-flowing musical conversation over Christensen’s anchoring bass line. “Skip” is an upbeat and bebop-inspired track that features blistering solos from Reichert, Barba, and Drobka, teetering on the edge of losing control.
“Nanjing” comes from Reichert’s experience of walking The Sacred Way to the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum in Nanjing, China, an 1800-meter path that winds through a forest while passing statues of ministers, generals, and animals. The track features a gentle, melodic soundscape, emblematic of natural beauty and a sense of serenity as one gets along the journey. “Balance” is a folk-inspired piece that one could imagine in the set of Bill Frisell or John Scofield. Shifting between major and minor tonal centers, the beauty here lies in what the ensemble leaves unsaid. “Reprise” ends the album with a spacey and melancholic solo guitar restatement of the title track.
Overall, Deep Breath offers a tastefully assembled variety of sonic landscapes that demonstrates the depth of Reichert’s compositions and the ensemble’s versatility and ability to incorporate different influences into their music. Featuring genre-bending compositions and dynamic group interaction, Deep Breath is a must-listen for those who appreciate creative and thoughtful music, and a reminder to us all that in this busy world, sometimes it’s wise to take a moment and breath.