Jamie Ruben: Groove-O-Ly-O-Scene (2011)
As a guitarist, Jamie Ruben isn't a shredder; there are more notes in a Russell Malone solo than there are on Ruben's entire debut. Rather, Ruben excels at the slow burna few well-chosen notes and a keen melodic sense can be much more enjoyable than an exercise in finger-busting on the fret board.
But first, a little background: after graduating from music school and spending time gigging in Ontario, Canada, Ruben headed to the Far East and spent a residency at The Bebop, a club in Thailand. This turned into a seven-year stint where Ruben played with many of the top musicians in the Far East to enthusiastic crowds.
This spirit of adventure certainly serves a jazz musician well, and the years that Ruben spent on the stage were certainly a good time to hone his craft. Now that he has returned to Canada, Ruben has recorded Groove O Ly O Scene, and it's a solid debut with the groove promised in the title. It's not a funky groove, however, but a slow, simmering groove that manages to sound a little like smooth jazz without losing any street cred. And certainly any jazz musician that cites Björk, Coldplay and Alicia Keys as influences is going to turn in something interesting.
Ruben is a composer first and foremost, and his solos seem almost like an afterthought until it becomes clear that they are so seamlessly integrated as to seem like parts of the guitarist's compositions. He has a gift for melody, and crafts haunting, melancholy lines of wonderful beauty. Drummer Ryan Granville-Martin and bassist Steve Zsirai provide unobtrusive support, while trumpeter William Sperandei provides subtle melodic accompaniment. Often the band cooks most when keyboardist Dafydd Hughes is added, providing an extra layer of depth; "AG Giraffe" and "Pai Crowd" are pretty darn cool, and the highlights of the album.
While a pleasant and enjoyable ride, Groove O Ly O Scene has the distinction of being a debut that promises the next recording will be even better. Ruben knows his strengths and plays to them well, but there's a certain pervasive sameness that could have been mitigated, had he stretched out a little bit in tempo and mood. No matter: Ruben was certainly concerned with turning in a confident and original debut and that he has done. There must be something in those Thai mountains that should encourage more players to go there for inspiration.
Track Listing: AQ Giraffe; Albino Bison; Kwan-Teen; Pennapa; Bangkok 504; Lanta; Pai Crowd; Introducing Monsieur Sidney; Monseuir Sidney.
Personnel: Jamie Ruben: guitar; Steve Zsirai: bass; Ryan Granville-Martin; William Sperandei: trumpet; Dafydd Hughes: keyboards.
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Fringes of Jazz