Guitarist Nir Felder is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music who is well known among musicians. He has played with Greg Osby, Esperanza Spalding, Jack DeJohnette, and Terri Lynne Carrington, among numerous others. Golden Age is his debut as a leader, released by Sony's resurrected Okeh imprint. Felder's band here includes pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Nate Smith. Felder wrote all ten tunes and produced the album. It's a loosely conceptual set that circles around the title: Did it exist? Does it? Will it ever? Are we past it? Samples of historic voices from Malcolm X, Mario Cuomo, Barbara Jordan, Elie Wiesel, Lou Gehrig, and Richard Nixon are threaded through several tunes, underscoring these open questions. Despite the heady premise, this set is actually more subtle. These pieces play to his ensemble's strengths, as well as his own. Thankfully, there is precious little blistering fever, though when it does reveal itself, it is impressive. Check the knotty "Ernest/Protector," with its striking arpeggios and swinging rhythm section amid the complexity. A smoking single-string solo and colorful chord shapes abound amid the contrapuntal interplay in "Memorial." Felder's tone contains an unmistakable rock patina: he uses the same $250 Stratocaster as when he began playing. (His first guitar idol was Stevie Ray Vaughan.) Smith's playing throughout is exceptional: check his skittery authority on "Sketch 2," the fluid grooves he deals out in "Memorial," and the double-time invention on "Slower Machinery" -- perhaps the most satisfying improvisational work by the entire quartet on this date. Parks has a couple of fine showcases too. His solo on the Latin-tinged "Bandits II" once more displays his ability to thread chord voicings and ostinato to bridge gaps in styles: in this case, bolero to post-bop to Americana, the last of which is made manifest in Felder's spirited solo. The pairing of styles and solos makes for a euphoric consideration that recalls -- in feel, not tone or melody -- '70s Pat Metheny. Golden Age is an auspicious debut. Felder is indeed a fine guitarist, and more importantly, a jazz composer of taste and originality.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek