Ronnie Cuber: Cubism (2002)
Although this date was recorded in 1990, it has only recently been released on CD. It is a solid effort. Cuber's the leader, and the date is built around his baritone sax. But the sidemen - Joe Locke on vibes, Michael Formanek on bass, Bobby Broom on guitar, Ben Perowsky on drums and special guest Carlos "Patato" Valdez on congas - all contribute inspired performances, too.
Cubism is not "smooth" jazz, but it's certainly got some smoother elements. And it's not outwardly commercial, but it has a certain accessibility and toe-tapping quality that might make it appealing to listeners who are scared off by rawer and more experimental forms of jazz. It's not a Steve Coleman record, and it's not a Sun Ra record, but if you walked into a club today (and remember, this date is more than ten years old) you'd likely agree there's some good playing going on. There's just a little cheese (the "Cool Jerk" funk groove) and everything is played with a good deal of chops, enthusiasm and energy. Cuber adds two classics (Duke Ellington's “In A Sentimental Mood” and Horace Silver's “No Smokin'”) to a lineup of his originals. “In A Sentimental Mood” is an especially good vehicle for Cuber's dusky, warm baritone sax sound. Drummer Perowsky - a fixture on both the downtown and mainstream jazz scenes - is burning on this (relatively) long-ago date. This record could be an interesting artifact for Perowsky fans. His signature voice and power was already apparent in 1990 - although there is a slight hint of the Dave Weckl/fusion drum school madness from which he emerged. Check the Pat Metheny Travels-era cymbal pinging and Lyle Mays-style synth wash on the last track, which was probably written and produced to be radio-friendly (not that there's anything wrong with that). Thankfully, guitarist Bobby Broom stays away from a Metheny-derivative sound.
This review first appeared in the November 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .
Personnel: Ronnie Cuber-saxophone, Joe Locke-vibes, Michael Formanek-bass, Bobby Broom-guitar, Ben Perowsky-drums, Carlos "Patato" Valdez-congas