This is old. Mutes, shouts, rumbling rhythms and gospel piano. The tunes are familiar (“This Here”, “Anthropology”), and the originals seem like old friends. But this is no veteran: Rod’s first album looked to hip-hop – this goes back to early ‘Sixties soul jazz. Max Roach calls him “an important new and original voice”, which sounds funny at first. But think: when young lions talk of “tradition”, they often mean bop or Ellington. This corner of jazz past is not much explored today, which makes Rod something of a pioneer. It’s a fresh look at an old sound, and most welcome. This is new.
“Cookout” is blazing: a deep growl, and a cousin of “Work Song”. A dub gives us two horns on the bridge, with plungers pumping as it ascends to the theme. The solo is open, notes flying as the piano grows thick. Lori Meecham is funky rhythms and block chords: Bobby Timmons, meet Red Garland! “Splip, Bap, Boom” is another rewrite, this of “Hallelujah, I Love Her So”. Rod’s on the corner, with sly compliments for those who pass. There’s a breathy groan I find corny, but the mute is welcome: he’s a siren, AND a wolf whistle! Roger Spencer walks with a deep woody tone – the sound of the past. You might not say “Hallelujah”, but there is cause to rejoice!
Now we get modern. Meecham hits “Lover” with brittle, mechanical chords, the drums doing their own thing. Rod storms the bridge in a tempest: bop – and harder than anything. The abstract theme returns, and the solo goes back to the club. This is solid and straight-ahead; no intellectual coldness, as often accused of young players. The odd arrangement commands attention, as does “Preacherman”, a slow blues in the Garland mold. There are some gimmicky squeaks, but also warm sadness when Rod slows down. Meecham starts churchy, adds blues then gets heavy on chords. Chris Brown crashes behind her, and the preacher starts wailing (I think it’s a dub, as rasp turns to polish like that.) From tradition to the Beatles: “Can’t Buy Me Love” makes a surprisingly good blues, with heavy horns and drawling plunger. Rod calls Clark Terry an influence, and you really hear it here. While they were revolutionary, the Beatles were also fun; the same feeling is here, and the album as a ! whole.
Another about face, this time in front of a church. Rod sings “This Little Light”, straight and unaffected. Simple, direct – beautiful. It’s just him and the drummer, and the scat in the middle is gorgeous. “When I Fall in Love” comes in with a kiss: you expect Miles’ mute, but you get a big tone, rounded on the edges. The theme is a joy, new wrinkles added but the tune is allowed to glow in its beauty. No solos, no histrionics – no problem.
This Here” opens with a descending riff, the opposite of the original version. Meecham gets the first solo: big and splashy, the drums helping her immensely. Rod is as quiet as Lori was loud, then he flutters high, capped with a piercing cry. The Adderley comparisons are apt: there’s muscle here, and more than a little soul. “Anthropology” gets the frantic “Lover” treatment, but faster still. The tone is frayed at this speed, and notes slurred; the solo itself is well-thought and gets better as it gets louder. Brown gets low in a thrilling solo, and so soon it’s over. “Fruit of the Spirit” os a modern ballad, the dark tones flowing over sparse piano. Meecham is good, though maybe a bit loud. And we return to the roots: “Is Your All on the Alter: opens with organ – as in pipe. Marc harris swells; Rod states theme with dignity and warmth. There’s a little stretching, but it mostly stays home. It’s like the Gene Ammons Preachin' album, but with a better ! feeling to it. With this it ends, but I think Rod McGaha is just beginning.