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Acuna/Hoff/Mathisen: Jungle City (2009)

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Acuna/Hoff/Mathisen: Jungle City How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

While some accuse the musical innovations taking place in Scandinavia as diluting "America's art form," there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. Many of the artists regularly stretching jazz's boundaries by introducing outside references can play in the tradition; they just choose not to. With Finding Nymo (ACT, 2009), Norwegian trombonist Helge Sunde and his Ensemble Denada incorporated elements of modern technology, traditional music and cinematic Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
-esque classicism, but swung hard—and with conviction—in the best tradition of American big band jazz. The group's bassist, Per Mathisen, is one of the reasons the group grooves with such authority. With Jungle City, he turns to a smaller ensemble, and explores a different facet of his roots in the American tradition.

Jungle City sounds, in fact, as if it were recorded in Los Angeles rather than Austria. Featuring busy Norwegian keyboardist Jan Gunnar Hoff, the album documents his and Mathisen's nascent relationship with percussionist Alex Acuña. Breaking out with Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
on the fusion super group's seminal Black Market (Columbia/Legacy, 1976) and best-selling Heavy Weather (Columbia/Legacy, 1977), Acuña has forged an intensely active career, with countless recording and live dates with artists ranging from Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
Group keyboardist Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
b.1953
keyboard
, Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets

band/orchestra
, Shirley Horn
Shirley Horn
Shirley Horn
1934 - 2005
piano
, and Lee Ritenour
Lee Ritenour
Lee Ritenour
b.1952
guitar
to Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
b.1943
vocalist
, and Rickie Lee Jones. Acuña first met Mathisen and Hoff at a Latin music festival in Tromso, Norway, and was so thrilled with the first rehearsal that, as the story goes, he jumped out of his chair after the first few bars, screaming "We have to play much more together!"

It's easy to hear why. In addition to being a monstrously strong acoustic bassist, Mathisen's a frighteningly talented electric player...and a fine writer to boot. Much of Jungle City pays homage to the kind of groove-driven, synth-heavy fusion innovated by Weather Report. On his "One for Jaco," Mathisen's fretless playing references Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
' ability to keep an electrified samba grooving with unshakable aplomb, at the same time executing complex arrangements and tight unison lines. His solo is equally reverential, but avoids direct imitation as he builds to a fever pitch; one passage so blistering that it might even have challenged the late bass icon. Hoff's synth solo is no less blinding, pushed to greater heights by Mathisen and Acuña's frenzied support, while Acuña's powerful closing solo is so well constructed that it's only in retrospect that it becomes clear that he overdubbed some percussion parts to further turn up the heat.

And that's only one track on the thoroughly exciting Jungle City. From the higher velocity of Mathisen's title track and frenetically swinging "Jangala," to Hoff's abstract, synth-laden "Visions" and more upbeat, equally Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
1932 - 2007
keyboard
-esque "Tribute," Jungle City clearly reveals an unmistakable reference point for these two fine Norwegian players, on one of Acuña's best co-led sessions to date.

Track Listing: Jungle City; Jangala; Blessing; One for Jaco; Voices; Maya Pejo; Det Bästa; Africa; Visions; Tribute; NightZone.

Personnel: Alex Acuña: drums, percussion; Jan Gunnar Hoff: grand piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards; Per Mathisen: electric bass, fretless bass, acoustic upright bass, Yamaha Silent electric upright bass.

Record Label: Alessa Records Jazz & Art


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