Zembla Variations is Brooklyn-based bassist Josh Ginsburg’s debut recording of all-original pieces. Out now on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, the album demonstrates Ginsburg’s command of the composition and his love of Brooklyn.
Zembla Variations takes its name from a small furniture company in Red Hook and is ensconced in the neighbourhood. Ginsburg wrote all but one of the pieces on the record over the last five years in the Brooklyn locale and it shows in the dreamlike but grounded construction of the songs. There is an understated, working class texture to his arrangements that makes things feel remarkably alive and passionate.
Along with Ginsburg, Zembla Variations features the musical services of Eli Degibri (tenor and soprano saxophones), George Colligan (piano and Fender Rhodes) and Rudy Royston (drums). The group is well-structured, picking up strikingly with Ginsburg’s cadenced, full-sounding bass and playing through pieces that are eloquent and elegant with distinct smoothness.
The record opens with “PushBar (For Emergency Exit)”, the oldest piece on the album. Inspired by feelings of nervousness riding on the subway after September 11, 2001, and the consequent return to “normal,” this number introduces the players with a sense of warmth and familiarity. There is something deliberate to their playing, as though they, too, are “returning to normal” after a stretch of chaos.
“Gently” is a groovy jam that features a circuitous, fairly intricate melody in 7/4. “The title is really a reminder to the musicians of the feeling; sometimes we see complexity on the page and think that must equal intensity,” says Ginsburg of the piece. There is a cool flow to the number and the fortitude of the musicians makes for some beautiful moments in time.
The last piece on the record, “Jakewalk,” lets Ginsburg and Co. stretch out their blues chops. An extended blues, this number finds Ginsburg “just laying down the carpet” and toying with all sorts of diverse rhythmic possibilities. The tune takes its muse from that splendid stagger home after a few too many at the local watering hole.
Ginsburg, who has studied with legends like Buster Williams and Jackie McLean, delivers a debut with grace and openness. His compositions are undoubtedly grounded in concentrated knowledge of jazz and unstable rhythms, but there’s something altogether “normal” about Zembla Variations that makes this a particularly charming and gratifying piece of work.