Review by Brad Walseth
Tom Gavornik is an imaginative jazz guitarist with a belief in taking chances in his spiritually-imbued compositions. His intricate passages are subtle, but startle sometimes with tight-rope walking-like lines that teeter on the edge and cause you to draw in your breath as balance is regained. Its difficult to describe Gavornick's style - the guitar is clean and combines a mellow jazz with Django-esque, George Benson/Pat Martino flourishes and unusual harmonies with Telecaster master Roy Buchanan's blues into a style that is distinctly his own. One of the is his use of quirky little vibrato riffs, an element that gives his guitar playing a unique voice-like effect, although the language being spoken sounds derived at times from Sanskrit or Martian.
A teacher and active musician since the mid-1960s, Garvornik has put out several well-received recordings (9, I believe), that gained him radio-airplay and a cult-following, but unfortunately not the attention a player of such caliber deserves. His latest recording is called "A Long Time Ago" and may be the album that finally brings Garvornik to the attention of modern jazz guitar lovers.
"A Long Time Ago" starts things off in hard bop fashion sure to delight fans of startlingly original guitar work. Gavornik also adds some synthesized flute to the fun on this number. The pattern continues with the darkly fun "Up and Away (I Don't Want to See the Wires)" - dedicated to Superman star George Reeves who is believed to have committed suicide. The interplay here between the guitarist and his bass guitarist, Ivan Bodley is wonderful. But it is "He is Mysterious (The Invisible Christ)" that really displays Gavornik's abilities in a piece that gives the listener chills through a course of sudden starts and stops and the guitarist's highly effective improvisation.
"Little Friends" displays a more conventional jazz influence, but is still highly intriguing due primarily to Gavornik's use of unconventional chord changes and technique, while "God Smiles on Me Too" is over 11 minutes of deeply felt and challenging guitar improv with a bit of a Pat Metheny feel to it over an ever-changing, addictive progression in the mid-section (book-ended by bluesy solo guitar). Drummer Tony Lewis deserves mention for his sensitive work along with the aforementioned Bodley. The country-flavored "White Hats/Black Hats (Cowboy Blues)" resists cliches and is engaging, with a few humorous twists on the classic Nashville style, as well as a delightfully twisted piano solo by Gavornik's wife, Joan - showing that Tom isn't the only one in the family with the Gavornik outlook on music.
The skittering "Hey Jim, It's in F" places the guitarist again in a more conventional jazz setting, although not without the trademark Gavornik stops. Here, he proves he can play the jazz style with the best of them, while mixing Wes Montgomery lines with a few rock riffs that would make a Jeff Beck, Steve Howe or Frank Zappa proud. A beautiful duet version of "A Long Time Ago" with his wife on piano follows and this quiet interlude is a highlight of guitar slow burn somewhat comparable to Bill Frisell's quieter moments.
The incredible and haunting "March of the Innocent" closes out this album and is sure to bring chills to the listener. Over a minor-keyed descending theme, Gavornik plays almost child-like and deceptively simple lines, bringing back the synth flute for a sound that is nearly heartbreaking. The song veers from lighthearted bounce to deep cries of pain, and it is no wonder this bittersweet gem is dedicated to all incest survivors and victims of sex abuse and violence. In fact, Gavornik, an incest survivor himself, is donating part of the proceeds of the sales of this album to victims of these under-reported and less-discussed crimes. For supporting a worthy cause, as well as enjoying some stellar jazz guitar, I would highly recommend "A Long Time Ago."