Guitarist Josh Workman may have spent his time on both the New York and Bay Area scenes, and has honed a fine mainstream sound in the ensuing years, but what separates him from the plethora of mainstream guitarists out there trying to make a mark is his remarkable breadth of style. Jumpin' at the Border is nothing short of an entertaining history lesson, with Workman and a host of supporting characters taking the listener across a number of borders and through a host of countries.
The title track may be a simple 6/8 minor blues, but with drummer Omar Clay and percussionist John Santos in tow, it's flavour is decidedly Afro Cuban, with plenty of room for both percussionists to strut their stuff, along with Workman, whose rich and sustaining sound is a foundation for a solo that combines fleet single-note runs and some dramatic chordal harmonies. "Sippin' at Bell's" finds Workman mining bebop territory, this time with an early Miles Davis composition first recorded in the '40s by Charlie Parker. Workman is as comfortable navigating the changes as he is executing the complex theme.
But it's when Workman picks up an acoustic guitar that things start to really get interesting. On the choro "André de Sapato Novo" Workman show he is as authentic in a traditional Brazilian role as he is in a mainstream North American jazz context. And on the bolero "No Me Plastiques Mas" Workman, again on acoustic, demonstrates his more tender side.
Workman enlists the support of The Hot Club of San Francisco for "Kali Sara," invoking the spirit of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli on a track that once again manages to feel completely authentic. But it's barely gotten started before heading into the swinging "You're Driving Me Crazy," which features vocalist Kim Nalley on a small group arrangement by pianist Larry Vuckovich which vividly evokes the dance halls of the '50s and the music of Count Basie.
Tying these diverse elements together is Workman's playing which, regardless of style, demonstrates a devotion to authenticity, while at the same time staying approachable and consistently engaging. His ballad, "My Pearl," is a deeply lyrical tune that shows his penchant for tasteful phrasing.
Jumpin' at the Border doesn't break new ground, nor is it meant to. Instead, by lovingly paying tribute to a breadth of influences, Workman examines the roots of mainstream jazz in an appealing and well-crafted way.
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Personnel: Josh Workman (electric and acoustic guitars); Larry Vuckovich (piano); Omar Clay (drums); Harold Jones (drums); Noel Jewkes (flute, saxophones); Nat Johnson (bass); Buca Necak (bass); Perry Thorsell (bass); Kim Nalley (vocals); Evan Price (violin); John Santos (percussion); The Hot Club of San Francisco: Evan Price (violin), Paul Mehling (guitar), Ari Munkres (bass)