“From Ear To There” Review

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Published in the Pacifica Tribune (San Jose Mercury News) by Jean Bartlett (Music Reviewer).

Recorded in Nashville, TN, mixed and mastered in Moss Beach, CA, San Mateo County coastal resident, performing artist and composer Mark Kostrzewa has written an acoustic guitar record that climbs, like a great treasure boat high, over waves and through winds – it is a sail on a magical sea.”From Ear to There” highlights the guitarist’s affinity for rootsy, sleek-toned guitar, and his knack for master craftsmanship in his honest story telling. He is unafraid to explore the unexpected.

The record opens with “3 Candles,” a flurry of soft and fluid ascending and descending chords. It’s the hook that takes the listener deep into the Kostrzewa journey. “Solve for X” crosshatches swamp rock with island drums – a kind-of riverboat Ska. “Ode to a Farm Girl” is a fiery “herder’s” song, with a river of strings running through it. Good old back porch slide guitar, for dancing shoeless ladies, young and old, sure makes the namesake behind this tune called “MarthaLou” sound like someone you’d want to come a-visiting. “Victory Garden” is nostalgic and impressionistic, a folky, pop rocker with intricate string work that becomes more jaw dropping, the more you listen.

Kostrzewa’s “Don’t Wake the Baby,” shows that the artist, who became a dad in 2009, is trying to tiptoe on strings but can’t help but throw in a little string-driven “blues-harp” from the pads of his flying fingers. That son of his is going to be tuning his night music to somefunky slide guitar.

The artist’s compositional train takes a turn towards India, with the gentle psychedelic raga rock, “Solstice of Solitude.” Next stop is the Mississippi Delta with “Pillow Fight,” then right into the movies with the epic “4 Minutes to Sunset,” lifted pastorally by Herman DePriest on keys. It’s a beautiful listen. “The Nervous Wreck” is fast plucked strings and bending, bouncing chords that are flying the rails. “Why Oh Why YYJ” is soft shoe, soda shop guitar, the kind that makes the girls check their lipstick and the boys straighten their ties.

Kostrzewa’s “Heart of the Matter,” could have been written for the Rough Riders, as its dark galloping beat might easily contain the hearts of a cowboy Calvary. The song “Spinning,” written with Nomi Harper, and featuring Harper on vocals, is exotic – a tone poem slipping into bossa nova, layered by Mark’s intricate, dreamy guitar and Nomi’s warm, enveloping vocal. The title “Flower Fields Forever” sounds restful, yet the piece is more of acceptance, a string fall after a hard rain.

Four very talented musicians lend their support to this new Kostrzewa release – the previously mentioned Herman DePriest on keys (songs “Ode to a Farm Girl,” “Don’t Wake the Baby,” and “4 Minutes to Sunset”), and Nomi Harper on vocals (“Spinning”), as well as Daniel Palasset-Mouledous on bass (“3 Candles,” “Solstice for Solitude,” “Why Oh Why YYJ” and “Spinning”), and Dave Spak on percussion (“Solve for X”).

Kostrzewa uses a 6-string, American made Guild Jumbo JF-30, with a self-installed B-Band XOM 2.2 crossover pickup, along with a 12-string Takamine EG523SC-12. These songs are exquisite servings of heroic arpeggios and precision rhythms, urging passionate rides of real life vignettes. Mr. Kostrzewa refers to this great listen as “progressive acoustic soundscapes.” I’d call it that and seductive virtuosity.