Kush review by Elliott Simon, New York City Jazz Record

Many of the cuts on guitarist Ryan Blotnick’s Kush create a free-floating exotic realm washing over the listener. On the surface, and as the name implies, Kush frowns on flash serving as a safe sanctuary from stress and strain. Blotnick’s ambient and harmonically astute approach combines with saxophonist Michael Blake’s anthropomorphic sound to glide and drift within heady environs created by bassist Scott Colberg and drummer RJ Miller. But all is not as it seems.

The session is a travelogue of sorts. Squeaks and squawks open the title track, which morphs into a leisurely voyage yet dissonance wonderfully haunts the band throughout. And despite the overall laid-back vibe there is tension and grounding. This is again largely due to Miller and Colberg’s sensitivity but also catchy melodies and ethnic rhythms, which, as on the extended party piece “DX7”, explode and turn the musings visceral. Blotnick’s touch is exquisitely delicate and he incorporates a variety of styles to outline boundaries.

A stop in “Lunenburg” portrays a serene setting with a sweet melody and elegant harmonics featuring pedal steel guitarist Steve Lam. However, Blake provides an undercurrent of saxual tension and pathos running through the town. “May Day” is painted in a rich Afroblue while “Churchy” has Blotnick and Blake deftly exploring the spirituality of their instruments. A soft bluesy layover in “Delaware” gives way to the more cerebral “And Bright Snow”, highlighting Blake’s tenor before “Spring” closes out the voyage as an ode to Strayhorn/Ellington exotica.

Blotnick is clearly on to something here and his ambient approach rooted in jazz, blues, Afro/Latin and even psychedelia—liner notes from Henry Finch would be an apt companion to any ‘60s head-trip—
works very well.

-Eliott Simon, New York City Jazz Record