The sequel to a memorable 2001 release, Philly Gumbo Vol. 2 consists of pleasurable hard bop by John Swana and a band of mainstays from the fertile Philadelphia jazz scene. Despite the familiar stylistic trappings, the music stands up to repeat listening for several reasons. The original material (nine of ten tracks) transcends the tired, derivative tunes often written in homage to masters of the genre. Swana's compositions, especially "Sid's Dilemma, "Three Of A Kind, and "Quasimodo's Uncle, are catchy and substantial. The band executes themes like tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna's sprightly "It's Over Your Head with gusto and precision. Played by Swana's muted trumpet over sparse bass and drums accompaniment, the somber, introspective "In Memory Of... is the only track that doesn't fit the mold.
An unassuming leader, Swana clearly enjoys creating opportunities for the others to showcase their strengths. The arrangements are often structured so that McKenna and tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes trade solos and portions of choruses. On tracks like "Sid's Dilemma and the standard "Everything Happens To Me, these exchanges point to the contrast between McKenna's fleet lines and Barnes' burly phraseology.
A rhythm section consisting of bassist Mike Boone, pianist Sid Simmons, and drummer Byron Landham cooks at various tempos and provides incisive support to the soloists. The ever alert Simmons jumps into a gap during Swana's "Sid's Dilemma solo and lands a telling remark. An attentive player who picks up on everything that goes on around him, Landham weaves punchy snare drum accents and the dry ping of the ride cymbal around Swana's pointed triplet phrases on "Quasimodo's Uncle. During nearly every track, Boone intensifies his walking lines by unexpectedly moving from lower to higher registers of the instrument.
Each of the four primary soloists has something arresting to say, and they all succeed without making the listener immediately start thinking about their influences. First out of the gate on "Sid's Dilemma, McKenna leaves little space for the rhythm section to fill, stringing together extended, bustling lines that possess a momentum of their own. Throughout Simmons' turn during "Three Of A Kind, performed over the bass and drums in swift 3/4 time, his jutting chords and short penetrating single note runs overlap and smack into one another. Barnes' solo on the same track is firmly planted in a slow-to-medium 4/4 groove. Treading heavily over the pianist's animated accompaniment with soulful, melodically concise lines, he doesn't need histrionics to make an emotional impact.
It's a pleasure to hear the ease in which Swana handles the horn, rides the rhythm section, and maneuvers the chord changes to "Ortlieb's. Inside of a limited arc, there's substantial movement in terms of timbre and phrasing. Utilizing various registers of the horn, Swana either builds to brief, taut climaxes or gradually goes slack.
Personnel: John Swana--trumpet; Bootsie Barnes--tenor sax; Larry McKenna--tenor sax; Sid Simmons--piano; Mike Boone--bass; Byron Landham--drums.