Guitarist Dan Faehnle played country and bluegrass music when he was 12, embraced pop music in his teens and was performing Prince and Janet Jackson covers just out of high school. Now, the 35-year-old, who lives in Portland, Ore., is strictly a jazz guitarist, and a traditionalist at that.
While it’s difficult for any guitarist born after 1950 to escape the influences of rock ‘n’ roll and its various guitar-driven forms from folk to heavy-metal, Faehnle, who grew up in Ohio, has seemingly overcome his early influences.
Faehnle’s performance Friday at Steamers Cafe in Fullerton hardly hinted at his pop and country roots. Instead, the guitarist recalled such giants as Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell and especially Wes Montomery as he performed a first set of famous and not-so-famous jazz tunes.
If anything, it was his bluegrass background that surfaced, apparent in the technical ability he displayed while working up-tempo tunes in the style of hard-bop guitarists from the 1950s and ‘60s.
But being old school doesn’t necessarily mean being old-fashioned.
Faehnle brought a measure of youthful enthusiasm to everything he played, including Burton Lane’s quaint “How About You?”
He generated an exuberance in his solos even during the somber ballad “Too Late Now” by matching blistering, single-note runs with chordal accents and octave-spread unisons.
Part of that enthusiasm sprung from the strong backing trio with which he was teamed. Pianist Alan Pasqua, working with the guitarist for the first time, brought the kind of sharp accents and deep-chordal accompaniment that spurs improvisers to new extremes. The astute bassist Tom Warrington was solid in support and strongly lyrical in his solo play. Drummer Joe LaBarbera applied the kind of smooth and seamless rhythms also filled with plenty of accents that have earned him a reputation since his days with late pianist Bill Evans.
The four opened ambitiously with Horace Silver’s “Juicy Lucy,” a funk tune based on the changes to the bebop anthem “Confirmation.” Faehnle, his mouth twisting with an inaudible lyric as he played with both thumb and pick, constructed long, involved lines that often developed into strong two-note blends at an octave in the style of the revered guitar innovator Montgomery.
Pasqua’s aggressive play developed variations on a thematic chordal pattern. Drummer LaBarbera’s play was so insistent that he sometimes left the others behind as they exchanged measures.
Despite his ability to bring generational, in-your-face attitude to standards, the guitarist’s finest moments came in his unaccompanied introduction to “Too Late Now.” Playing with a delicacy that imparted a vulnerable fragility to each line, Faehnle overcame his pop-culture roots to emphasize quiet beauty.
The jazz guitar tradition is in good hands with sensible players like Faehnle on the scene.