If you like fusion that’s more bop than pop, Cool Bop Phonics is well worth tracking down.
Cool Bop Phonics was born out of a series of Friday night jam sessions at a club called Robin Hood’s in Stamford, Conn. Organized by percussionist Gerard "Vito" Diacri, these sessions attracted a bevy of veteran jazzers from New York City and surrounding area. Some of the players were so inspired by the get-togethers that they decided to capture the same spirit on CD.
The result is an intense electric-jazz recording that fuses bop, funk, Latin, reggae and Brazilian styles. To the musicians’ credit, there are no concessions to smooth-jazz radio on this album. Cool Bop Phonics is a superior set of nine contemporary fusion tunes marked by jagged polyrhythms, intersecting lines and ferocious solos.
Five of the tunes were written by Alan Eicher, a veteran keyboardist who’s backed saxmen Lou Donaldson, Charles McPherson and Brandon Fields, among others. Eicher is accustomed to working with sax players, and Ken Gioffre’s saxophone is prominently featured on many of his tunes. Gioffre is a capable player in the Michael Brecker mold, equally comfortable on tenor and soprano, while Eicher divides his time between electric keyboards and piano. Factor in Bill Bickford’s fiery guitar, the propulsive drumming of Kim Plainfield, Diacri’s percussive flourishes, and some funky bass by Kip Sophos and Dave Anderson, and this is one hot fusion ensemble.
Gioffre and guitarist Bill Bickford trade cool solos on the opening track, a reggae-bop hybrid called "I Hear Talkin’." "Falling North" is an airy number reminiscent of the Yellowjackets, while Plainfield’s "Boat People" brings to mind Wayne Shorter. Bickford’s "Latino" is perhaps the most accessible track on the album, and it features some nice playing by flutist Charles Haynes over rapid Latin rhythms laid down by Plainfield, Diacri and Herb Clay (percussion). Plainfield also wrote the closing track, an upbeat fusion anthem entitled "Commando Search." The bop-funk tunes "DK Dance" and "Buster’s Blues" help to round out a nice set of no-nonsense fusion.
Even hard-nosed jazz critics who normally pan fusion bands might warm up to Cool Bop Phonics. It’s certainly one of the best independent fusion releases I’ve heard this year.