After 30 years as a studio musician, New York City based trombonist, keyboardist, and co-producer Eric Goletz has released his first two solo albums literally back to back. The first album, “Into the Night” arrived in March of 2021, and he had already taken the lead by starting work on his second album “A New Light,” which was subsequently released in January of 2022, and now reviewed here.
Both releases are an exciting amalgamation of musical styles including rock, smooth jazz, funk, blues, big band, fusion jazz, and more, all filled with energy and distilled with a dynamic range of textures. The combination of Goletz’s stellar musicianship, range of composition and detail to arrangement adds up to an enticing set of songs. He says “I think of music as having endless possibilities. It’s a journey where you can never be absolutely sure where it will lead.”
Goletz tells me that the first and foremost influence that shaped his composing was his father who was a professional pianist and arranger. Since he started playing music when he was six years old, he has had many influences musically. An early influence was his discovery of the Headhunters album by Herbie Hancock, and of course that lead to taking a serious interest in Miles Davis, given that Herbie came out of the Miles quintet in the 60’s. Goletz grew up in the 70’s and was also drawn to the whole Motown and Funk sound, as well as Chick Corea and similar fusion-jazz artists. He also enjoys many other styles, and he is a big fan of numerous Heavy Metal bands, many which he notes have a very high level of musicianship and creativity. Goletz says “One such example is the progressive rock band “Dream Theater” which is comprised of very accomplished musicians, some of which are Julliard graduates. I listen to a widespread array of Heavy Metal including Breaking Benjamin, Disturbed, Devour the Day, and Five Finger Death Punch.” Of course, growing up studying classical Piano, Goletz will still sit at the Piano and play Beethoven Sonata, or a Bach fugue, which also are some of his very favorites! Many of these styles show up in some manner on A New Light.
I think by now it is clear, A New Light is not your grandparents Big Band swing album, although it is filled with the energy and brass that one equates with that era. Opening the album with a mellow Gershwin-ish style piece, Prelude: Before The Light, co-producer, trombonist, and keyboard player Eric Goletz lets the listener settle in before brightly turning on all of the lights. On the second track, A New Light, is where listeners will find Big Band meets the world of Rock, placing enormous energy and power behind a large horn section that includes Tony Gorruso, Freddie Maxwell, and Kent Smith on Trumpets, Will DeVos playing the French Horn, Bob Magnuson on Alto Sax, Erick Storckman and Chris Rinaman adding Trombones, with Bass Trombone work from Jonathan Greenberg, and Tuba handled by Matt Ingman.
Recorded at Sound on Sound Studios by veteran audio engineer and co-producer David Amlen, the band spreads across the stereoscape with great depth and a lively feel to the mix. Marco Panascia’s bass richly fills the bottom and one can hear Jim Ridl’s piano and Henry Heinitsh’s guitar vamping as the horns dynamically hit, spreading out from the left to the right speakers. I specifically like the natural blend of the drums, which musically fit in with the band, instead of overpowering the other instruments as has become somewhat common in modern mixes. Along with Goletz’s masterful trombone lead solos throughout the title track, it is also the incredibly ripping guitar solo that truly kills it on this title track for me. Additionally, the brilliant edge of the guitar is elevated with a very open ambience taking the song to new heights. Amlen says, “It was such a pleasure to work on this album with Eric and his team of amazing musicians. Working with great musicians and fantastic music makes my part that much more enjoyable, and in fact easier.”
Could there be such a thing as heavy smooth jazz? It seems that Goletz has found this as he steps into a sound that crosses multiple genres on the Edge of Night, wherein the smooth jazz groove carries the beat with a heavy metal root leading the way. Steve Johns’ drums hit significantly harder with a round thwack to the snare and a tingly glisten to the cymbals along with the zesty overdriven guitars and blasting horn hits, all while blending progressive and fusion jazz elements too. Goletz’s trombone solo nearly lead into the Avant Garde as he wildly moves across the scales and playfully inserts augmented flairs. I kept noticing how natural the overall recording sounded, much of which was tracked live in one or two takes, plus I learned from co-producer and audio engineer David Amlen that he utilized a Neumann FET47 into and modified Neve V microphone preamp with minimal compression for Goletz trombone. As a means of creating clarity and definition the core band was separated into four isolation booths respectively with Acoustic Piano in the first booth, the guitar amp in the second, Goletz on trombone in the third, and Joe Mowatt adding percussion from the fourth booth. The remainder of the band including drums, directly fed bass, Allen Farnham’s direct keyboards, and the guitar were all in the main studio laying down the lively rhythm section.
Goletz goes on to share, “When I compose, sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes the groove comes first. Often times I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a motif of an idea, or a groove that’s going through my head. I’ll write it down as I keep music paper in my nightstand for just such occasions. Sometimes I find that if the melody comes to me first, that as I develop it, it will often point me in the direction that the groove should go in. Every piece is different, as is the case with my new album.”
One can really hear the depth of field as the Goletz’s interpreted classic song “Dig” by Miles Davis beats in. The drums and percussion play off one another with the balance of the band introducing the melody moments later. Check out the shaker which moves from the left into the center and back as the piano and horn swell across the stereoscape. I appreciate how each part has plenty of room to breathe, and the transparency of the mix provides the openness that truly gives this recording such a lively feel.
While A New Light was recorded digitally, its analog warmth can be attributed to the selection of microphones, mixing console, gear, and production technique. The multi-track recording was done through a Musgrave modified Neve VR (which is effectively the same specification as an AMS-Neve 88R for the detail minded). Everything was tracked at 48kHz / 24-bit, and the overdubs were completed on a Neve Prism series (with Neve V-Series outboard microphone preamps). Mixing was through a Euphonix system 5 with reverbs and delays effects routed from within ProTools. I found the overall sound to be extremely smooth with a golden warmth that is vibrant, offering plenty of dynamics, and unlike the days of tape and vinyl, the stereo mix yields a fantastic separation across the stereo field. One should easily hear the vivid overtones which are clearly evident on all the tracks and become so expressive on the funk and blues tune “Greene Street Groove,” with its absolutely awesome horn section that blasts away alongside the syncopated piano hits.
Long before the days of computerized and sequenced music, musicianship reigned supreme, it was well regarded as an art and craft. Having grown up playing in a Big Band jazz group myself, being introduced to Goletz’s sound and extraordinary compositional writing is as a pure pleasure. His creative mastery from my perspective is a rainbow of melody and chord structure that moves listeners so freely from one beat in time to the next. Goletz has the gift of perfect pitch, and he does not need to be at a piano to be able to write music. This special gift allows him to go directly from what is in his mind to paper. He further tells me that often times when he is composing and or arranging a piece, the horn parts will start to formulate in his head - the phrases of the tune, and the development of the form will begin to determine when and if there should be a horn section as part of the song.
One of my personal favorites on the album is the Bock and Harnick tune “Sunrise Sunset” which opens with the piano and trombone majestically playing together, followed by the delicate interplay of the cymbals as the piece evolves with the balance of the rhythm section kicking in only moments later. The essence of Corea’s band Return to Forever can be heard on this fusion jazz style song with the energized guitar solos, synthesizer swells and of course Goletz ripping horn solo in the latter part of the piece.
Goletz trades solos with trumpeter Randy Brecker on the be-pop infused piece “Don't Gimme That” with Farnham adding organ for a classic sound on this modern release. I would be remiss for not noting the exquisite addition of the string section across a few of the tracks, and even tucked in small sections on others, adding texture and character to the song. The players include Robin Zeh and Paul Woodiel on Violins, Michael Roth and David Gold playing the Violas, and Sarah Hewitt-Roth on Cello. Like the horn section, the strings were overdubbed during later sessions, another recording technique that has aided in maintaining isolation and purity of those instruments. Amlen tells me that with all the layers of strings, he wanted to bring as many individual parts as possible into the console for precise panning and more control over their effects. He also noted that he wanted the depth and presence of a full string section, even though there were only five players. All of this led to some challenges between allocation of console channels for different instruments, which included as many as four stereo keyboard pairs (eight channels), and even as many as another eight percussion channels, the brass section, and multiple passes of strings, at times he ended up using all 128 paths available from the MADI interfaces between ProTools and the System 5!
The album ends with “Postlude: After the Light,” a reintroduction of the melodies culled from the rest of the songs. Here is where the band steps back, and the horn section takes over with Goletz in the lead. Primarily the Genelec 1031A’s were used for monitoring throughout the recording process. Once all the recording was complete and mixing began, the team checked the progress throughout their various stages on the large main custom 3-way Augspurgers monitors fitted with super tweeters and additional subs, decades on the Yamaha NS-10M’s come in handy as well as listening on headphones, on car systems, and at a variety of home stereos systems. Amlen mentioned that they lived with the initial mixes of each song for a few weeks before final tweaking prior to being sent off for mastering. He goes on to say, “It is this space and time away from the actual mixing process to sit with the songs and not feel the need to come to a rush decision about what you like and don’t like about a particular mix.”
Goletz describes that several of the songs from A New Light were newly composed for this release, and others came from sketches of tunes he had composed and kept in a file for later use. Over the years there have been many instances where he has composed a fragment of a melody or even an A or B section of a melody and simply just didn’t use it at that time. He says “When I’m putting together music for a project, often times I’ll go into my files and look at the things I have composed before and very often get a new inspiration. A perfect example is the title tune “A New Light” which was a melody I had composed many years ago, originally I was thinking of it as an up-tempo Latin groove. Upon putting together material for this album, I came across my original manuscript of that tune, and immediately started hearing it as one now hears it on the album, but it definitely is not a Latin groove tune anymore!”
I can say that from composing, performing, and on through to recording, that all of these efforts have paid off. A New Light is not only a fantastic sounding release, but an incredibly creative execution of bridging styles. The musicianship is top-notch, and I strongly recommend this release to fans of fusion jazz, big band, smooth jazz, and funk. When you want energy, A New Light will shine brightly, giving you all that it has and then some. It may even be better than your best cup of coffee! Watch out, you have now found a new way to start your day, and it is Eric Goletz that will lead the way.
Released January 21, 2022.
CD and download, also available via streaming sites.