When saxophonist Bill Evans brought his Soulgrass project to the 2007 Ottawa Jazz Festival
, what differentiated it significantly from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones was that, stellar playing aside, this was a band that grooved hard
, largely due to the rock-solid support of bassist David Livolsi and drummer Joel Rosenblatt. Hemispheres
is the first release by Rosenblatt, keyboardist Phil Turcio and bassist Ric Fierabracci. It grooves just as hard, but occupies a clearer jazz fusion space that's informed by the backgrounds of all three musicians.
Rosenblatt has been a busy session player since emerging in the mid-1980s, working for extended periods of time with pianist Michel Camilo and crossover group Spyro Gyra. Fierabracci has recorded with artists ranging from drummer Dave Weckl to guitarists Frank Gambale and Scott Hendersonthe connection to the latter two resulting in his subbing for regular bassist John Patitucci during parts of Chick Corea's regrouped Elektric Band tours of the past few years. Australian-born and based Turcio is the dark horse, a keyboardist who few will have heard (unless they're from Down Under); but based on Hemispheres, that's a situation that deserves to change. Like his trio mates, the music of everyone from Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock to Weather Report is a part of who Turcio is, though he's anything but a carbon copy.
The compositions are split evenly between Fierabracci and Turcio, and possess the kind of complexity and attitude that will appeal to the most hardened fusion addicts, while remaining accessible enough to avoid alienating the fusion-averse. There's no lack of formidable chops here, but they're always in service of the music and, in the case of Fierabracci and Rosenblatt, represent the perfect nexus of demonstrably impressive playing and in-the-pocket grooves.
It's as much about the writing as it is the chops too, and there are plenty of memorable melodies amongst the energetic playing. Most notably, Fierabracci's "Reverie seamlessly shifts between swing and ambling funk, and features a change-heavy head navigated both by Turcio, whose electric piano solo is an album highlight, and guest saxophonist Eric Marienthal.
There's a wealth of guestssome known, others deserving to be. Soulgrass mate Christian Howes turns in a characteristically strong violin solo on Fierabracci's greasy "Shadows, while Soulgrass leader Evans delivers a dexterous soprano solo over the twists and turns of Turcio's "Earth, which also features a brief but potent exchange between Rosenblatt and Evans in the tune's final minutes. Turcio's anthemic "Avenue of the Righteous and balladic "Ghosts are the kind of contemporary tunes that should get radio play; approachable, but still about real and fully committed playing, rather than the more by-the-numbers smooth stuff.
Hemispheres is an exhilarating contemporary album that manages to avoid excess despite undeniably virtuosic playing by everyone involved. It's an album that'll appeal to Yellowjackets fans and, looking back, the Bob Berg/Mike Stern band of the 1990s. It's music with teeth that doesn't neglect those who want to hear some melody with their muscle.
Personnel: Ric Fierabracci: basses; Joel Rosenblatt: drums; Phil Turcio: keyboards. Guests: Dave Weckl: drums (9); Bob Sheppard: tenor sax (2); Brian Monroney: guitars (2); Jeff Miley: guitars (4, 8); Walter Rodriguez: percussion (1-3, 5-8); Steve Tavaglione: soprano sax (8); Eric Marienthal: soprano and alto sax (4, 11); Christian Howes: violin (5); Joel Hoekstra: guitars (5); Doug Webb: tenor sax (7); Max Hines: additional percussion; Gary Meeks: soprano and tenor sax (1, 3, 6, 9); Brett Garsed: guitars (10); Bill Evans: soprano sax solo (3).