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Paul Tobey's first Arkadia CD seems to be significant in several ways.
From the label's perspective, it represents an extension of its earlier documentation of and rejoicing in the music of already-established jazz musicians who lacked a recording contract-seemingly, an incomprehensible oversight. Legends like Dr. Billy Taylor, Benny Golson, Joanne Brackeen and Dave Liebman were left to their own devices for presenting their music in recorded form until Arkadia founder, Bob Karcy, perspicaciously signed them. From that solid beginning, Arkadia went on to present the series of "Thank You" album tributes to John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, Duke Ellington and Joe Henderson. It signed a singer (Mary Pearson). And with the signing of Canadian pianist Tobey, Arkadia is adding new artists to its roster from beyond the borders of the United States. Its next release will be that of a German jazz pianist, Uli Lenz, who convinced Karcy to record him as well.
The other significant point, as one reads through Tobey's bio, is the support he received through private and public Canadian grants. One wonders at the insufficiency of public funding in the United States, in spite of the country's array of struggling talent, when Tobey deservedly earned, for example, a grant to perform at The Hague Jazz Convention. That occasion clinched the deal to record Street Culture on Arkadia. Even before that watershed event in Tobey's career, the Foundation To Assist Canadian Talent On Record sponsored the appearance of the Paul Tobey Orchestra at the 1998 JazzTimes Convention, where he wowed the attendees and gained his first widespread recognition among the jazz movers-and-shakers.
Street Culture proves that all of the work, support and belief in Paul Tobey have paid off. The CD represents the arrival of a mature artist with not only a performance capacity of the highest level, but also the compositional imagination for a varied repertoire through the album's hour-long excursion. Tobey has wisely chosen to add to his group three other equally proficient musicians with talent virtually bursting at the seam.
That may seem to be hyperbole, even though it's not, but when one replays Street Culture, another facet of, not the quartet, but the individuals emerges. It goes without saying that Tobey, as the leader of the group, would perform with grace, energy and authority. Having studied with Kenny Barron, Tobey exhibits the same harmonic sophistication, sympathetic submersion within a group and yet personalized addition to the necessities of a tune. Tobey's study of Chick Corea's fluidity within percussiveness shows too.
But on second listen, one notices that this is an extremely cohesive group. Beyond that observation, though, and beyond the goes-without-saying technical excellence of saxophonist Mike Murley, it becomes obvious that drummer Terry Clarke and bassist Jim Vivian create the feel and character of each of the tunes. Compare the first number, "Street Culture," consisting of an edginess and a bass line reminiscent of Cedar Walton's "Bolivia," with "Bay St. Blues," as Clarke switches from a crackle to a New Orleans strut before Murley concludes the "blues" phrasing with a "Freedom Jazz Dance" blurt.
"The Netster," which refers to Tobey's Internet programming abilities, goes against expectations in a modal and reassuring and anticipation-of-the-beat sort of way. Instead of caricaturizing the frenzy and frustrations of the Internet, what with computer crashes and viruses and what-not, Tobey instead chose to convey the feelings of the moments of relaxation during programming breaks.
Tobey unselfishly concerns himself with the sound of the group in its totality, instead of being the leader directing back-up musicians in support of his sonic vision. As a result, most tunes involve a unification of sound that blends all of the instruments in a bop-like or modal perspective. However, "A Conversation With Ibach," alluding to Tobey's purchase of a custom-made Ibach piano, arrives from a pianistic approach. The tune's 3/4 flow itself seems to be custom-made for an acoustic keyboard, the intensity of the classically-derived piece surging from a very gradual crescendo to the rising tide of Tobey's solo, which lowers its force to dramatic effect when Vivian improvises.
Through perseverance and an abundance of extroverted talent, Paul Tobey finally has revealed himself to a wide international audience to be an outstanding pianist and group leader who individualistically honors the jazz tradition, even as he extends it.
Track Listing: Street Culture, The Netster, Bay St. Blues, In My Own Time, A Conversation With Ibach, Settlin' In, K-gals, Adrian's Song, Street Culture (Radio Version)
Personnel: Paul Tobey, piano; Mike Murley, tenor sax; Jim Vivian, bass; Terry Clarke, drums
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