Jon Albrink learned to play guitar as a teenager growing up in West Virginia. "I started on a baritone ukelele with a green felt pick," he recalled recently. "Then I would sneak off with my mother's Martin classical guitar and flail away on an open E chord with a thumb pick. The scratch marks are still there. Sorry, Mom."
West Virginia radio at the time was a collision of styles country music from WWVA in Wheeling, soul from Philly and DC, and on cloudy nights, British Invasion rock from WLS in Chicago and WBZ in Boston. Jon took it all in and mixed it all up. He played with bands in coal miner bars (such as the Cougar Club in Purseglove, West Virginia) and at frat parties.
When he heard a recording of the great Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous with Weather Report, Jon was galvanized. "I drove across town and bought Bill Custer’s plywood Kay stand-up bass for eighty bucks," he said, still excited at the deal. Before long he played well enough to move to New York and jump into the still burgeoning jazz scene. He played with jazz luminaries Milt Jackson, Buddy Rich and Mary Lou Williams, learning on the bandstand. According to Jon, "Mary Lou paid me the ultimate compliment she said 'You play good notes'".
Thrilling as it was to play with these masters, Jon wanted to be more than a sideman. "I started coming home from gigs and singing and playing guitar into a cassette recorder my first demos," he said. "They were like friends. I would check them out in the morning and see how they were." Over the years, he has written hundred of songs, and performed them with his band and as a solo artist. Jon wrote over 40 songs with Peter Valentine and Jim Gately, and performed and recorded with them as the band "27 Heavens". One of their songs, "The Way I Feel", became a hit record in Brazil. The band is still known and loved in Germany "and in pockets of Long Island."
Jon became interested in the challenge of writing simple songs to be performed with acoustic guitar. "I wanted to incorporate some of the harmonic flavor of jazz into acoustic guitar-based pop songs. I love the sting of jazz harmony and the drone of the dulcimer." Jon also developed as a lyricist, drawing inspiration from such modern American poets as Charles Simic and James Tate, as well as the great rock and folk writers.
The result of this tension between many different styles is well represented in "Shimmer and Thrum", the new CD of Jon Albrink’s songs. Producer/drummer Billy Ward called on some of the most acclaimed and gifted musicians in the pop, folk and jazz fields to play on this record: guitarists Marc Shulman and Bruce Gaitsch, bassist John Patitucci, keyboardist Jim Beard, and violinist/violist Allison Cornell. "Billy was like a film director, coaxing a great performance out of each player," Jon says of the production process. "With these guys, not much coaxing was needed."
There is the Appalachian plaintiveness of "All That Glitters", which struck one listener as being "a song that sounds a hundred years old." The rambling, restless, nearly spoken "Brother and Sister" is at the other end of the musical spectrum. The jazzy 12-string on "How Long", the Senegalese-inflected "Miracle", and the borderline country of "The Christmas Roses" stretch the ear of the listener, yet are clearly the product of one musical mind. Though his overall sound and style have been compared to Kenny Rankin and Bruce Cockburn, Jon Albrink accepts full responsibility for his work. "I wouldn’t want to get those guys in any trouble," he says.
"Shimmer and Thrum" presents eleven intensely musical songs that are fresh, familiar, specific and mysterious. You are hereby invited to meet eleven of Jon Albrink’s newest friends.