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Published: 2014/01/31
by Brian Robbins

Nir Felder
Golden Age

Okeh Records

Nir Felder’s Golden Age is not a jazz guitar album that inspires you to speak of “horn-like phrasing” or “violin-like tone.” The fact of the matter is, Nir Felder plays his guitar like a … well … a guitar. And he does it very well.

For his recorded debut, Felder works with a small ensemble (drummer Nate Smith; bassist Matt Penman; pianist Aaron Parks) to create tunes that have more to do with vibe and groove than blindingly-fast picking passages or layer-upon-layer of sonic textures.

Though Golden Age is a studio album, it has a warm, live feel to it. The music does, anyway: Felder works spoken-word samples into a couple of the cuts – “Lights” (the album opener and secret closer) and “Sketch” – it’s an interesting effect, but not overdone. Sometimes passages or phrases are gently applied to establish a mood or theme, other times they’re manipulated into near-percussive shapes to drive home a point. With sources ranging from Lou Gehrig and William Jennings Bryan to Malcolm X, Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton, it may sound scary on paper, but trust me: it works.

It’s the music that makes Golden Age such an interesting album, however: right off the bat, “Lights” takes off with a pulse that manages to come off both driving and wistful … and it’s not until after the track concludes that you realize there was never a guitar break as such – but there was plenty of tasty guitar. (Nicely done, Mr. Felder.)

“Bandits” will remind SKB fans of the period when Kimock toured with Jim Kost on piano. “Ernest/Protector” and “Memorial” are both angular fretboard workouts (put an ear to Penman’s bass on the former as he continuously shapeshifts to provide traction for Felder; listen to the drums lock horns with the guitar on the latter). “Sketch” features brilliant rhythm tumbles by Smith while “Code” is a lovely 9-minute-and-37-second slow dance with Penman’s bass. Felder lays down a wide blacktopped base for Parks’ piano on “Lover”; Parks also shines with a break on “Bandits II” that’s all rolling surf – before handing off to a Felder solo that feels like the view from the hillside above. “Slower Machinery” builds tension without ever losing its humor; “Before The Tsars” allows all hands to contribute to a whodunit with a light Latin flavor.

Felder is a master of creating a melody from a rhythm figure or blending single-note runs into full-chord chugs. Again, his sound sculpting comes more from his fingers and soul than an array of pedals or studio manipulation; and his compatriots on Golden Age seem to all be rooted in that same approach.

Having written all the songs on Golden Age and handling production chores himself, Nir Felder displays an impressive sense of direction and musical maturity for a debut effort.

“Cool” would be an appropriate word, actually.


Richard Nixon has never visited Brian Robbins over at

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