A good 80% of the music reviewed at All About Jazz is "instrumental": that is, it has no singing or human voices. It's almost superfluous to say so, of course: have you ever read a review that said "'St. Thomas,' like all the other cuts on Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus, is an instrumental offering ?
When people talk about instrumentals, they're often talking about rock 'n' roll, where the presence of the human voice is the norm, and instrumentals are relative oddities. But there's something else: in rock 'n' roll, the instrumentals often sound like they're missing something. You expect someone to start singing at any moment. When they don't, you think (explicitly), "Ah, an instrumental track.
With Coalition of the Willing, drummer and bandleader Bobby Previte has made a record of "instrumental jazz, where "instrumental is used in the rock 'n' roll sense.
There isn't too much jazz here, and he probably didn't mean for there to be. Charlie Hunter, on Telecaster rather than his usual custom-made eight-string guitar, sounds fine, as always, and suitably ferocious on "Ministry of Love. "Memory Hole is more subdued and lets the soloists demonstrate their skills. But mostly it's barroom rock, very well played, amiable, if earnest.
The rock 'n' roll reference points are a bit louche: surf music, Big Country, the Scorpions, the Police (check the fake reggae on "Oceania ), a lot of '70s album-oriented rock; vague echoes of the Atlanta Rhythm Section ("So Into You was their mid-'70s hit; not a bad record, either).
All the elements come together most successfully on "Anthem for Andrea, the closer. The rock 'n' roll elements are uncompromisingly and irresistibly corny (like the drum rolls); Sherik's fulminating tenor solo and Steven Bernstein's trumpet lend creditable jazzspeak to the proceedings. As with some U2 songs, you can't get the anthemic, triumphal theme out of your head.
You wouldn't guess that Previte studied with Morton Feldman and John Cage, or that one of his other projects is, according to the press kit, "an evening length piece dealing with the Separation of Church and State [original capitalization], for early music choir and band[,] based on the 15th century composer Guilliaume Dufay's Missa Sancti Jacobi." All that, and the diffuse references to George Orwell in the packaging and titles here, indicate that Previte is a much more conceptual artist than the music on this record would at first blush indicate.
Is Coalition of the Willing a conceptual opus, linking a protest of the current US administration's foreign policy (as implied by the record's title), Orwellian newspeak, and a reading of kind of dated mainstream rock 'n' roll? Apparently, but drawing out those connections would be the subject of another review.
Personnel: Bobby Previte: drums, percussion; Charlie Hunter: electric guitar, electric bass; Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet; Jamie Saft: organ, mellotron, moog, electric guitar, electric bass; Skerik: tenor and baritone saxophone; Stanton Moore: drums; Stew Cutler: harmonica, slide guitar.