A Long Time Ago
Light Action Productions, 2007
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/21/2007
Perhaps that's not a macho thing to say. Critics and writers are supposed to have thick skin; after all, it takes a degree of audacity to tell someone who has created something that it doesn’t cut it, especially if the critic can't do any better.
But another way to look at it is a public service. If I'm going to invest the money and time into music, I expect it to yield some rewards. If it does, I'll pass that along, and if not, I'll pass that along, mentioning any highlights I think people other than myself may like. This is why very few of the discs I've ever reviewed have an "F" rating -- I appreciate the effort.
As the only person on the Vault panel who reviews jazz on a regular basis, I get a lot of that music across my desk that spans the genre spectrum. And like most music, how you react to jazz depends on where you are at that moment in life; since I'm in a pensive mood at the moment, Tom Gavornik's A Long Time Ago sounds a lot better on second listen.
It's not quite essential, mainly because in writing such a personal album Gavornik indulges himself with long guitar solos and even longer songs that repeat the same theme, at times. Song titles deal with God, incest and the suicide of George Reeves, TV's original Superman; Gavornik dealt with incest in his youth and as such is donating part of the proceeds of this CD to charities that deal with the awful crime.
Certainly, the heavy themes and moody atmosphere don't make for a sprightly listen. Among the most fun songs is "Up And Away (I Don't Want To See The Wires)," the song for Reeves that pits Gavornik's jazz guitar improvisation against the bass, then sets it to a quieter electric guitar undercurrent that plays in the background. It's about two minutes longer than it needs to be but quite fun.
Gavornik improvises through most of the disc, with guitar solos all over the place, calling Django Reinhardt to mind. "God Smiles On Me Too" is a good example of this, 11 minutes of soloing over a jazz background. Those who love jazz guitar will eat this up, and Gavornik is a great example of the genre, but for others this might be a bit much to take.
The shorter country-influenced "White Hats/Black Hats" is better, updating Nashville cliches for a fun little romp, complete with a piano solo from Gavornik's wife. She and Tom team up again on "A Long Time Ago (Duo) (Slight Return)," a very slow but beautiful tune that's more effective than the nine-minute prequel that opens the disc.
Everything comes together on "March Of The Innocent (To Victims Of Sex Abuse And Violence)," a deceptively happy song. The tune uses descending minor-key melodies throughout, adding guitar solos and awkward flute lines as it goes, and of course stopping frequently, a key theme of Gavornik's songs. At only four minutes, though, and with such an upbeat melody, the song never really gets the point across that it wants to make. Surely one of the other, slower, more heartbreaking tracks on here would have worked...unless, of course, the minor-key melody was supposed to clash with the upbeat guitar and flute. It's really what you make of it.
A Long Time Ago is a good disc, a great example of Gavornik's jazz guitar techniques (that have won him praise since the 70s) and, most importantly, a very personal statement that finds the musician exorcising his thoughts on record. Sometimes, this can be tough to listen to, and certainly a few of these songs could benefit from some editing, as they seem to drag on.But, of course, I couldn't do any better.