Nic Vardanega, New Beginning Review
by Stamish Malcuss
Nic Vardanega’s latest offering, New Beginning, shows the Australian-born, New York-based guitarist and composer’s evolving musical identity and personal journey. In this album, Vardanega delves into the essence of the guitar, bass, and drums trio format, a configuration he admires for its intimacy and expressive potential. The ensemble, completed by Ben Allison on bass and Allan Mednard on drums, presents eight original compositions that showcase Vardanega’s depth as a composer and his dexterity as a guitarist. This album displays the layers of Vardanega’s musical vision, the ensemble’s synergy, and how these elements coalesce to forge an album of nuanced conversations and emotional landscapes.
New Beginning is a collection of eight songs with a narrative arc reflecting Vardanega’s personal milestones and the collective resurgence from a global pause. The album’s inception, rooted in the thematic core of new beginnings, resonates with Vardanega’s transition into fatherhood and a post-pandemic world seeking renewal. This thematic exploration is mirrored in the musical journey from the optimistic cadences of the title track to the contemplative resolve of “M’s Lullaby.”
The opening track, “New Beginning,” sets the tone with its vibrant straight-eight groove, melding clear melodic lines with sophisticated chordal arrangements. Vardanega’s guitar work is exemplary, weaving Latin influences with the folk sounds of his Australian heritage and the modern jazz tones of his New York influences. The track celebrates new chapters, personal and universal, articulated through Vardanega’s spirited solos and the trio’s cohesive dynamism.
The album then moves through various moods and styles, from the strident rhythms of “Cardenas” to the soulful narrative of “Looking Back,” each piece offering a window into Vardanega’s musical ethos. “Inner Episode” stands as a beacon of modern jazz composition, its upbeat tempo and harmonic sophistication spotlighting the trio’s ability to easily navigate complex musical terrains. Vardanega draws inspiration from jazz legends like Joe Henderson, translating it into his unique voice on the guitar. His playing is characterized by a warm tone, precise articulation, and the ability to convey deep emotionality through fluid single-note runs or rich chordal textures.
The synergy between Vardanega, Allison, and Mednard is pivotal to the album’s success. Their interaction is complementary and deeply interconnected, creating a tapestry of sound rich in texture and emotion. Allison’s bass lines provide a grounding force, while Mednard’s drumming adds a balance of propulsion and space, allowing the guitar to sing. This empathetic understanding between the musicians amplified the emotional depth of the compositions, making the album a collective expression of individual virtuosity and shared musical vision.
New Beginning is an album that encapsulates the essence of Vardanega’s musical identity and his journey as an artist. The album’s eight compositions traverse a landscape of emotional and musical territories, from introspection to celebration. Vardanega’s guitar playing is technically impressive and emotionally resonant, bridging diverse influences into a coherent, captivating narrative. Alongside Allison and Mednard, Vardanega crafts an album that is a testament to the trio’s versatility, the power of musical storytelling, and the endless possibilities that lie in new beginnings.
New Beginning is a significant contribution to the jazz guitar trio canon, showing Vardanega is a gifted guitarist and composer whose music navigates the complexities of modern jazz with grace and innovation.