Frank Kohl: Invisible Man

Originally published in Earshot Jazz December 2014

Guitarist Frank Kohl may wrestle with his own inner demons of distraction and insecurity, but you can’t hear that on his third recording, Invisible Man. His soaring solos and swinging tunes unveil a spirit tuned in to the moment and where the notes may lead.

Originally from New York State, Kohl learned music in his high school jazz band, got inspired at clubs in New York City, studied at Berklee in Boston, and returned to New York City as a professional, recording his first CD, Reform, with bassist Michael Moore in 1981. Kohl migrated to the Bay Area in 1983 and joined a band called Warmth led by vibraphonist Don McCaslin. Then he met his Seattle-born wife and they moved to the Pacific Northwest. She teaches yoga and keeps Kohl’s negativity cool. But Kohl walked away from music ten years ago.

Kohl’s creative flame was rekindled hearing Jim Hall at Jazz Alley. Bassist Steve LaSpina really impressed him. LaSpina is a “super strong and tuned in listener and player,” Kohl told me over the phone. “He gives so much of himself. He comes from that school of being more involved with the music like Eddie Gomez. I get something back from him that inspires me.”

The inspiration led to this recording of five Kohl originals and three standards at Tedesco Recording Studio in Paramus, NJ by Kohl and LaSpina, Frank’s brother Tom on piano, and drummer Jon Doty. Greg Williamson at Pony Boy mixed the session and Ross Nyberg mastered the recording in his Issaquah studio.

While Kohl clearly mastered technique, his guitar solos sing true with room for breath and emotion. The strong swing, bass pedal, and catchy melody of the title track echo compositions by Oliver Nelson and Bobby Timmons. The two-beat folky “In Your Arms” harkens from the ilk of guitarist Pat Metheny, who was on the Berkley scene while Kohl attended classes there. “Born Again” swings in a minor key with a brief tag between the end of the bridge and the recapitulation of the opening melodic phrase. “Falling Sky” sambas through a unison figure and melancholy melody. “Round About” is a swinging blues with the last phrase sliding smoothly down chromatic cadences. Standards “My Funny Valentine,” “My One and Only Love,” and “Alone Together” round out this enjoyable recording.

Kohl told me that music is the “closest thing between this world that we live in and the other world. Keith Jarrett is someplace else when he plays.” As far as practice, Kohl said, “I know that I’m here to learn. Getting to music is like meditating. Practicing is deep. I don’t practice scales and reading. I play notes and go with them, with their feeling. I choose a standard that I know well enough to not think of the chords and form.” While Kohl admires guitarists Martin Taylor and Joe Pass, he models himself after piano soloists Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans.

Music that emphasizes feeling can be difficult to capture in the recording studio. For Invisible Man, Kohl said he “did have a lucky day with magical moments in it.” Come here some magic at the CD release performance 9:00pm December 27th at Egan’s Ballard Jam House.

Visit to read more about Frank.

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