How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Guitarist Jamie Ruben's Groove-O-Ly-O-Scene is an absolute treat for the ears. There's something deliciously mellow and laidback about this music, and at the risk of using a word that brings terror to many jazz fans, it is wonderfully smooth.
Wait, don't stop reading! One dictionary defines "smooth" as "even and uninterrupted in flow or flight." That's exactly how this music rolls: it possesses a marvelously spacious ambience, woven through with fantastic grooves. In fact, "groove jazz" is the term Ruben uses for his music, and it's the best way to define this unique sound. Groove is king on the album, and it takes many forms: mellow, funky, exotic, cerebral, and mischievous.
Ruben has an unusual background, including a seven-year period living in Asia, where he made a living as a guitarist and composer. Ruben played over 2,000 gigs in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, and Cambodia, ranging from a long residency at a jazz club in rural Thailand called The Bebop, to performing for members of the Thai Royal Family, Western ambassadors, and various luminaries at four-star hotels. He played with top-notch Thai jazz musicians as well as other Westerners, and along the way Ruben received a musical education that's certainly unique in today's jazz world.
Now back in his native Canada, Ruben is bringing to fruition the body of work he composed and arranged during his time in Asia. He has joined with an impressive group of Canadian musicians and put out the highly original Groove-O-Ly-O-Scene. There's something quite distinctive about this music that makes it wonderfully impossible to categorize. Surely it's due to Ruben's Eastern influencesthe auditory and sensory impressions he imbibed during his travels most definitely inform the musicbut it's also the way he effortlessly combines ambient music and groove with the toe-tapping swing of classic jazz.
The nine songs are all gems, but standouts include "Albino Bison," where bassist Steve Zsirai and drummer Ryan Granville-Martin lay down a lush groove, as Ruben bends his notes with exquisite care and trumpeter William Sperandei shines throughout, including a thoughtful, impressionistic solo. "Pennapa" is another memorable song, with an exotic groove and more shapely contours from Ruben's guitar. The dynamics are low-key and restrained, with lovely cymbal work by Granville-Martin. "Pai Crowd" has perhaps the most delectable groove on the CDa funky, slightly wistful melody with a vibe so luscious it's palpable.
If your ears long for mellow sounds but your soul is afraid of smooth jazz stations, be at ease: Groove-O-Ly-O-Scene fills a void and opens up new possibilities. This is a special album, highly notable and well worth exploring.
Track Listing: AQ Giraffe; Albino Bison; Kwan-Teen; Pennapa; Bangkok 504; Lanta; Pai Crowd; Introducing Monsieur Slidey; Monsieur Slidey.
Personnel: Jamie Ruben: guitar; Steve Zsirai: bass; Ryan Granville-Martin: drums; William Sperandei: trumpet; Dafydd Hughes: keyboards (1, 7-9).