Pacifica Tribune article on “From Ear To There” by Jean Bartlett

In 2009, Coastsider, composer and fingerstyle guitarist Mark Kostrzewa released his first CD “55 miles.” Falling like an easy, “world” breeze on the ears, the composer’s “55 miles” of guitar stories take the listener on a Coastside drive from Pacifica to San Mateo County and back again. Despite the fact that the long-time Montara resident had been gigging up and down the Coast to favorable reviews for several years, he was a bit astounded that locals were scooping up his record. But that thinking came from working many years on the graveyard maintenance management shift out at SFO, and not having the right hours to get out and gig. All that changed when the guitarist switched to dayshift.

Kostrzewa had more than a few songs left over to start working on a second CD, but life threw in a few surprises — loss of a parent, family illness. But the first shipment of his new record “From Ear to There,” arrived just a few weeks back on Jan. 8, which was coincidentally, the year anniversary of his father’s death.

“The creative well has been running wild in the three years since the first CD,” Kostrzewa said, “Plus there was some feeling that I didn’t want to be a ‘one-CD and out’ type musician.”

In fact, Kostrzewa has a few more pieces already in the mix for his next CD — he just couldn’t fit it all on the second, and didn’t want to, anyway. His latest release stands just fine, top to bottom, on its own. His guitar work per usual is

both sweeping and nuanced. A number of his compositions — “3 Candles,” “Ode to a Farm Girl” and “Victory’s Garden” — all have at their base, sweetness, a stirring of string sounds both natural and bold. “Don’t Wake The Baby,” is a natural for Kostrzewa, who became a father when he and his wife Kate adopted their newborn son Devin, not long after his first CD came out of the studio. The song is foot bouncy and cool with some teasing, swamp slide guitar throughout. On just one of the 14 tracks, the heavenly “Spinning,” Kostrzewa shares the writing credit — and that would be with singer, songwriter, guitarist and Pacifican Nomi Harper.

“I had this drop dead gorgeous riff and had played it for Nomi one time over at her house and she just started adding her beautiful voice and lyrics onto it right there on the spot. The first time I heard her sing, I knew we had to get a recording of it.”

One of Kostrzewa’s compositions is “MarthaLou.” It’s a quirky, fine Bayou scratcher that just makes you want to find out, who is that fabulous “MarthaLou?” Turns out MarthaLou is the reason why Kostrzewa’s “From Ear to There” was recorded in Nashville.

“MarthaLou was Kate’s aunt,” Kostrzewa said. “She had been getting up in age and Kate and I, primarily Kate, had done a lot of work to keep her going — personal stuff, visits, moving her to Board and Care. She passed away in 2010 at the age of 90, and one of Kate’s cousins wanted to thank us for taking care of MarthaLou.”

Kate’s cousin and her husband invited Mark to record at their Nashville studio. Additionally, they provided him with three “A” list Nashville session musicians to help get the job done. (Herman DePriest weighs in on keys on three songs, Daniel Palasset-Mouledous plays bass on four songs, and Dave Spak plays percussion on “Solve for X.”) The “raw” recordings were brought back to the Bay Area and mixed and mastered at All Fogged Up Studios in Moss Beach by Jim Rogers. Final CD reproduction was done by Sienna Digital out of Menlo Park.

On his record, Kostrzewa uses his 6-string, American made Guild Jumbo JF-30, with the self-installed B-Band XOM 2.2 crossover pickup. He additionally plays his 12-string Takamine EG523SC-12. The guitarist describes this record as “progressive acoustic soundscapes.”

Kostrzewa, who has played at such Coastside stages as A Grape In The Fog, The Chit-Chat on Manor, La Costanera, Pasta Moon, and Cameron’s Inn and Pub, is having his CD release party at the Old Princeton Landing in Pillar Point Harbor (460 Capistrano Road, El Granada), on Saturday, Feb. 9, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Joining Kostrzewa are Nomi Harper, keyboardist Steve Shufton, percussionist Jason Cutter and singer, songwriter Liz Anah.

“Five years ago I would never have thought I would be recording in Nashville, but yet there it is,” Kostrzewa said. “However, my motto is, when a door is presented, open it. You may not make it on the other side but the real disappointment would be not opening it and walking through.”