I'm not quite sure if I could label Groove Station as a jazz album without an asterisk. If we're talking about the Paul Shaffer Band on CBS or the Max Weinberg Band on NBC servicing the musical needs of the Letterman/Conan O'Brien shows, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Jim Cifelli's latest album. After having released three well-received "little big band" efforts by his New York Nonet, Cifelli opens another musical door for the aptly titled Groove Station. The eight selections fall decidedly in a funk/groove setting with lots of visceral horn riffs and toe-tapping energy.
Like the musicians in the aforementioned two TV bands, the members of Cifelli's group have studio credentials as well as long resumes working in rock and R&B, although they may not have the recognizability of the Vivino Brothers, Will Lee, or Anton Fig. Only Joel Frahm, who guests on soprano sax on one track, has a significant series of recordings. Keyboardist Will Boulware recorded Harmony in 2003 with the group Will & Rainbow alongside Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd, and vocalist Phoebe Snow.
The music itself consists of all originals, save one composition by bassist Mike Leslie. There's no denying Cifelli's chops on his trumpet and flugelhorn work; the first two tracks, the title tune, and "You Better Believe It" set the tone for this album with all hands solidly in the groove. From a contemporary jazz band viewpoint, the concluding "Long Time Comin'" and "Old School" are the hardest to listen to. Guitarist Dave Phelps, who plays serviceably throughout the album, blasts off into high-powered blues/rock guitar territory. The liner notes reveal that Phelps is a "Texas blues guy," and they're not kidding. If you're a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan, you won't be disappointed with Phelps' work on these tracks. Boulware's keyboard solo on these tracks is also a reference to the fusion age. Saxophonist Dan Cipriano does get in some keening but soulful work also.
To no one's surpise, the Cifelli band members draw upon their years of experience working with Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Rick Derringer, the Blues Brothers and many other R&B artists and rockers. Groove Station may not be what traditionalists would call jazz, but then again, how would one label Tower of Power?
Track Listing: Groove Station, You Better Believe It, Time Out, Chaotica, Young Dan, Sertao, Long Time Comin', Old School.
Personnel: Jim Cifelli, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Cipriano, alto and tenor sax; Joel Frahm, soprano sax on "Chaotica"; Dave Phelps, guitar; Will Boulware, keyboards; Mike Leslie, bass; Ray Marchica, drums.