This is the debut album by Fundementia, a quintet of lesser-known but eminently talented New York jazzmen led by saxophonist Andy Parsons and drummer Gene Lewin. Parsons studied with Bob Mintzer, Bobby Watson and Jerry Bergonzi and has performed with David Sanborn, Dave Liebman, Claudio Roditi, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and others. His saxophone technique is rooted in developments from hard bop through contemporary jazz, and he is one of the most impressive EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) players I’ve heard since Michael Brecker. Lewin is a former student of Bob Moses and George Russell, and his style reflects all the eclecticism and variety associated with those jazz legends. Pianist Mike Holober, leader of the Gotham Jazz Orchestra, is an award-winning composer and sideman with Nick Brignola. Bassist John Hebert has a long resume including work with Greg Osby, Uri Caine, John Abercrombie, Brian Blade, Matt Wilson and Tom Rainey. Guitarist Pete McCann’s background is more unorthodox, having worked with Bobby Previte, Ed Ware and Tom Varner in addition to Maria Schneider’s orchestra, Kenny Wheeler, John Patitucci and many others. (McCann’s own album,You Remind Me Of Someone
, is reviewed in the Fusion section this month; it also features John Hebert on bass.) Though their experiences run the full gamut of modern jazz, here the players concentrate on a comfortable brand of music that avoids both avant-garde pretentiousness and smooth-jazz barrenness.
These players work together with the oneness of a band that’s been together for decades, and the compositions (all by Parsons) are an engaging mix. Parsons’ EWI conjures warm synthesized sounds on the title track, carefully avoiding Brecker’s prior wind-synth paths which might make it come off as stale. Shortly he switches to tenor, his main horn for most of the album. There is a typical contemporary-jazz flair and polish to the tunes, although they don’t suffer from the sterile production that curses the “smooth jazz” industry. I was surprised at the number of devious turns in the music here. Track #2 begins with a McCann guitar vamp that sounds drawn from African highlife patterns, but once the rest of the band enters that African vibe is lost. Similarly, the bass pattern that kicks off #4 echoes Lester Leaps In, but the tenor/guitar melody sounds more like a present-day Pharoah Sanders tune. This isn’t a complaint, mind you, just observing some unexpected turnabouts. The initial chilled-out theme of #5 would be at home on a number of ECM Records releases, though Holober’s Fender Rhodes and McCann’s edgy guitar solo warm things up. Parsons is the predominant voice throughout, and Lewin offers up the ideal kind of rhythmic support, dead-on-target for each musical style and twist.
The last three selections were recorded live at the Irish Arts Center in New York City. McCann and Hebert are replaced here by guitarist Chris Tarrow and bassist Doug Weiss. Parson blows warm soprano on #6 over Weiss’ and Lewin’s gently booting rhythms. Track #7 is a tenor ballad in the firm tradition of all tenor ballads, beginning with an unaccompanied intro that dissects the melody and burbles through some quick scalar runs. The closing track is almost 13 minutes long; its theme transmutes oh-so-subtly from temperate modern jazz to minor clashes to Latin hip-shaking and back again.
Fundementia’s sound is smoother than some presently popular types of fusion, but certainly more adventurous and inviting than much music that clutters the contemporary jazz market. These cats aren’t just in it for the cash and attention, and the live tracks here show they don’t need studio wizards to clean up after them and make the album sound presentable. Their act is all together and highly entertaining. (http://sonsofsound.com/artists/fundementia.html)
Personnel: Andy Parsons, saxophones, EWI; Gene Lewin, drums; Mike Holober, piano. Tracks 1-5: Pete McCann, guitars; John Hebert, bass. Tracks 6-8: Chris Tarrow, guitar; Doug Weiss, bass.