Upstate New York might seem an unlikely place for a jazz scene to develop, but Rochester's renowned Eastman School of Music has provided fertile common ground for a wealth of players to come together over the years. Guitarist Bob Sneider and pianist Paul Hofmann, for example, recorded Interconnection
(Sons of Sound, 2004) and a recently released followup, Escapade
(Sons of Sound, 2006), mining similar territory as Bill Evans and Jim Hall's classic Undercurrent
(Blue Note, 1963), albeit with an understandably more contemporary bent.
Now a confirmed New Yorker, vibraphonist Joe Locke also grew up in Rochester and attended Eastman. So, while they've never recorded before, Sneider and Locke's debut collaboration, The Bob Sneider & Joe Locke Film Noir Project, makes a lot of sense. The simpatico they sharealong with Hofmann, trumpeter John Sneider, saxophonist Grant Stewart, bassist Phil Flanigan and drummer Mike Melitomakes this homage to music from films like Chinatown, The Moderns and Mulholland Falls a strangely paradoxical work. It's easy listening, but with a bittersweet undercurrent of melancholy beauty that's completely in character with its source.
While most of the material on Fallen Angel is sourced from film, Locke lends the opening title track, which illustrates just how easily he adapts to any musical context. Unlike Locke's recent vibes/marimba duet disc, Van Gogh by Numbers, which highlighted his more complex compositional side, the West Coast cool of this recording is a decidedly breezier mainstream affair that adapts music from contemporary composers including Mark Isham, David Grusin and Tomasz Stanko, providing ample solo space for everyone involved.
While this is ostensibly Sneider and Locke's project, the arrangement duties on Fallen Angel are democratically shared with other members of the septet. John Sneider takes an episodic approach to Jerry Goldsmith's theme to Chinatown. Following strong vibes and trumpet solos, the piece shifts to a darker coda for trumpeter John Sneider and Locke to enter a more interactive exchange. Bob Sneider's poignant arrangement of Isham's music from The Moderns is more straightforward, as is the deep blue of Locke's look at John Barry's score for Body Heat, where Stewart's robust Dexter Gordon-like tone is a high point of the tune's amblingly swinging solo section.
"Promenade Sentimentale, from Diva, begins boisterously but settles into a firm swing where guitarist Sneider and Locke's initial theme is joined by trumpeter Sneider to create a denser three-part harmony. Sneider's flamenco-informed guitar intro to "A Farewell to Maria ultimately evolves into a bright medium tempo that feels strangely at odds with Tomasz Stanko's lyrical theme of complex despair.
Guitar and vibes have been a texturally appealing match as far back as vibraphonist Gary Burton's recording debut on Nashville guitarist Hank Garland's Jazz Winds from a New Direction (Columbia, 1961). Sneider and Locke fit together hand in glove, inventive individually, transcendent together. Fallen Angel is deceptive in its accessibilitythe disc reveals greater depth beneath the surface, matched with a reverence for the music that in no way precludes taking considerable liberties and opening the music to rich interpretation.
Visit Bob Sneider and Joe Locke on the web.
Personnel: Bob Sneider: guitar; Joe Locke: vibraphone; Paul Hofmann: piano; John Sneider: trumpet; Grant Stewart: tenor saxophone; Paul Flanigan: bass; Mike Melito: drums.