The Second Third Man (1996) Rainbows in the Night (2002)
The guitar isn’t Wolfgang Schalk’s first instrument. He began his musical career playing the drums – on a set he built at the age of six. A few years later, he took up the accordion. Finally at 15, he picked up a guitar. And the lessons learned on those two other disparate instruments continue to color his playing.
Schalk’s music today seems to be influenced by this journey. It defies strict classification. This isn’t to say that his pieces are radically altering the fabric of jazz playing as we know it, only that Schalk refuses to paint himself in a corner, a feat which can be very easy for a jazz guitarist. First and foremost, Schalk’s music is jazz. But he treats the genre like a buffet: a scoop of Wes Montgomery (a primary guitar influence), a dollop of ’70s funk, and a splash of fusion. Schalk’s funk and fusion leanings are evident on his recently re-released 1996 album The Second Third Man, which refers to an elusive film character in an Orson Welles movie. Some of the songs are as elusive, such as “150 Miles,” which opens with an almost manic melodic line that dissolves into what can be best described as a jazz shuffle. Also notable is the title track, which features Michael Brecker on saxophone and employs a keyboard funk groove that brings to mind groups such as Soulive and Galactic. Last year’s Rainbows in the Night is an altogether different affair. Schalk pares his lineup to four members, two of whom (pianist Dave Kikoski and bassist Andy Mckee) are members of the Mingus Big Band. Schalk’s pieces are more traditional in scope, such as “Waltz in Blue (for Hildegard),” while other numbers point in different musical directions. The standout track on the record is “Where Are You From,” a 10-minute piece that moves along at a leisurely pace and features a beautiful melody. Additionally, the soloing throughout is thoughtful and fluid.
The completely different textures of these two albums can only make a listener hope to expect more unexpected (and good) things from Schalk and his guitar. Good thing he gave up the accordion.
By Kerry Hinton