Tony Palkovic – Deep Water

Originally released 1980 via Deep Water Records; Re-issued digitally 12/21/2018 via Numero Group

Guitarist Tony Palkovic’s Deep Water, initially released in 1980 on Cleveland imprint Deep Water Records, is a dash of Non-Fiction era Steve Kuhn, a nod to the guitar-synth excursions of early Pat Metheny Group, and a few sprinkles of Japanese city pop, with this bubbly mixture radiating a synthetic late 70s / early 80s jazz fusion sheen.

Deep Water and later release Every Moment were recently re-issued digitally by Numero Group, providing some added visibility to Palkovic’s work. His musicianship on Water is clearly jazz caliber, and the ensemble on this work often strives for a funk pacing. But compared to the fire found within Mahavishnu Orchestra’s The Inner Mounted Flame, or the formless mind trips of Miles Davis’ groups circa Live Evil, Palkovic’s fusion doesn’t measure up to that same level of musical ambition and curiosity.

However, perhaps judging the music with that type of measuring stick is ill-informed. Touting the new digital launch on December 21, Numero Group tweeted that “Deep Water and Every Moment are the soundtracks to your next dentist appointment.”  Sure, one could take that sentence as a jab of sorts, but I’d argue that, in the right setting, there’s something quite special about inobtrusive music. Let’s give a special shout-out to those study mixes, those workout playlists, those listen-while-you-work radio stations that color in our days without too much interference to our concentration.

“Live Like There’s No Tomorrow” starts like a heady techno tour de force, then 30 seconds later shifts to a virtuosic sweep of guitar shredding as Palkovic’s band comps along. There’s a carpe diem outlook to the attack, steeped in optimism and cheerful in its delivery. Standout “Lighthouse,” with its hints of a 70s rock shuffle, is the closest Palkovic comes to tracing out his own sound in this space. The clavichord synth recalls 70s Herbie Hancock, and Palkovic’s tone manages to insert itself into the mix without feeling foreign, with the reverb amped up to help add more shape to what can at times feel like a painfully thin tone. Similar to “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow,” “Reticent Babbler” showcases Palkovic’s clear command of his instrument. It fits the title quite well, as his runs pour out like an introvert who’s finally found the comfort to speak. However, the track does little to highlight the guitarist’s supporting cast.

At moments, Palkovic struggles to break free of the music being a clear derivative of the albums Pat Metheny was making at the same time, its sonic similarities too striking to catch minute differences in his playing. As for Numero’s point about this being dentist’s office music, there’s definitely more meat here than you’d find in Muzak’s musical wallpaper. The guitar tone and synth effects clearly sound dated, though they do serve as a fascinating time capsule for a jazz sound in transition.

Recommended for fans of Pat Metheny and new age listeners looking for more bite than you’d typically find in the Narada and Windham Hill catalogues.

By Brandon Roos – 2019