Guitarist/composer Johnnie Valentino beings his South Philly musical background spliced in with a N'awlins turn-of-the-century ambiance on this ambitious guitar-organ-sax album with a few asterisks attached. The inspiration was the 100th anniversary of the end of the use of a tuba, which became phased out by acoustic bass. In order to restore the music to the instrumentation of 1906, Valentino brings the urgency of today's rhythms and compositions into an ensemble that consists of clarinet/tenor sax, guitar/mandolin, tuba and harmonium (taking the place of the accordion), drums and percussion.
So how does this concept work in reality? This really isn't an organ-centered album, although Mick Rossi is featured on several numbers, These pieces (ten by Valentino, two co-written) begin in a late-night, half-tempo kind of after hours club genre with Bob Sheppard making the strongest appearances. Valentino has a metallic and just-this-side-of-John Scofield edgy quality to his playing which also makes me consider Kurt Rosenwinkel as an influence.
"Oyster Bay" is the closest to a bebop riff, highlighting Randy Jones' tuba. I remember tuba player Ray Draper, in the late-'50s Jackie McLean group, fitting into that hard bop setting scene very effectively. On "Oyster Bay" Jones plays the tuba very obviously with larger smears of notes. Not knowing if this is satire or not, I remain unmoved. "4AM" is not so much a late-night ballad but as close as Valentino & Co. get to applying an bit of outside jazz.
Each listener will have a different reaction to this album. OmniTone lives up to its envelope-pushing quality while still retaining an Old World flavor. Do you want to compare the concept to John McNeil's East Coast Cool, in the way it mashes styles together? Most trad jazz fans will probably welcome part but not all of the album. Looking back at the title of Valentino's recorded debut, Eight Shorts In Search of David Lynch (Tone Science 2004), I'm inclined to believe that he is definitely an "idea man."
Personnel: Johnnie Valentino: guitar, mandolin; Mick Rossi: Hammond B3, harmonium, percussion; Mark
Ferber: drums, percussion; Bob Sheppard: clarinet, tenor sax; Randy Jones: tuba.