Jon Wirtz has spent the past 10 years mostly as a sideman. Now, he presents Tourist (Jon Wirtz Music, 2013), his second release as a leader.
Wirtz has performed with such artists as Justin Timberlake, Robbie Krieger and Melissa Etheridge. Television appearances include The Late Show with David Letterman, CBS Early Morning, Ellen and Lopez Tonight.
The core ensemble is Wirtz, piano, organ and synthesizer; Alejandro Castano, drums; and John Grigsby, bass. Dan Schwindt plays electric and acoustic guitars on three tracks, and several other musicians and vocalists contribute to one or two songs apiece.
“Slumber” is a haunting chant by Sarah Morris, with Wirtz behind her on piano. That sets the listener up for tranquility. Instead, Wirtz and the band kick it into high gear on “Politico,” which is anything but relaxing. With Schwindt on guitars, Wirtz, Grigsby and Castano make it sound like a larger group is playing. During one stretch, the group steps back while Castano gives the drum kit a serious workout, backed by Wirtz. After much intensity, the piece abruptly shifts into sleep mode.
“Gratitude” features the voice and lyrics of Stephen Malloy Brackett. The music sounds like a church sermon, the way the organist and choir underscore the preacher as he winds down. Brackett recites a poem about thanks, telling someone he loves – perhaps a mate – how regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of how New Orleans Saints fans behaved when their team won the Super Bowl, regardless of his attitude, there is always gratitude.
Wirtz says the inspiration for Tourist came about 15 months before he entered the studio. He had been having vivid dreams, during which he heard or saw distinct phrases, which led to the songs in this set. Framed with “Slumber” at the start and “Awakening” at the end, the artist envisions the project as a series of related stories.