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The Green Possibilities of Spring

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Badawi professes a percussion sound and vision unlike any other, and when he is sometimes called 'the Hendrix of percussion,' it
Few things engender that “great wide open” spirit of unlimited possibility as does the dawn of a new spring. It presents this perfect opportunity to explore possible musics.

Skip Heller
Fake Book
(Hyena)

When you read that youngblood guitarist Skip Heller has played with a wide range of musicians, it means a wide range of musicians – Todd Rundgren to Yma Sumac to Big Jay McNeely to Susanna Hoffs to NRBQ and more.

On Fake Book , Heller leads John Wicks on drums, Robert Drasnin on flute, clarinet, and alto sax, guest trumpeter Jay Roulston, and organ player Doria (who sounds like he pulls double duty on keyboard bass) through a set of Heller’s favorite songs by other artists, worked out on the road and then recorded in a single afternoon in Doria’s basement. “I chose these because each one had something personal about it,” Heller reflects, “whether it was because the composer influenced me so deeply or because a song was part of a place or time I remembered.”

Right from the opener, the Grant Green / Big John Patton guitar-organ jam “The Yodel,” where clarinet mixes in the sound of real old school jazz, Heller the bandleader orchestrates an old-fashioned throwdown. Along with the soul-jazz classic “Cold Duck Time,” a showcase for ALL the soloists but especially Drasnin on alto and Roulson, it captures the spirit of this set.

Heller the guitarist shines in his Green-ish take on “Never Can Say Goodbye,” his tender and respectful solo guitar “Monk’s Mood,” and “Sophisticated Savage,” where his melodic lines flow long yet remain sharp and tangy blue, like another guitarist who shares Heller’s Philadelphia birthplace, Pat Martino.

Joel Dorn, the power behind Hyena Records who produced the original “Cold Duck Time” on the landmark Eddie Harris / Les McCann Swiss Movement set, writes in these liner notes: “This one almost coulda come out on Prestige in the 60s. But it ain’t old music, it’s brand new, and Skip’s thread in the great American tapestry.” No arguments here.


Modereko
Solar Igniter
(Harmonized)

One of the world’s premier “Grooverockjamjazz” bands, the Modereko quintet consists of co-founders John Molo (drums, loops, vocals) and Bobby Read (saxophones, flute, clarinet) with JT Thomas (keyboards), Dan Conway (bass), and Tim Kobza (guitar). Their collective roots are in instrumental rock of high quality (Blue Thumb, an imprint of the hallowed Verve jazz label, released their eponymous debut) and colorful variety: Thomas and Read also play with pianist Bruce Hornsby, while Molo was Hornsby’s original drummer and more recently tour drummer for Phil Lesh & Friends.

There’s just so much music here. That means more than there are a lot of songs: There’s a lot of music stuffed into each song, mixing in with casual precision goofy pop culture references, and an amazing amount of this music is quite good. Several titles reflect this joyous, almost comedic, celebration of pop culture, such as “El Kabong” and the jellyfish jam “Allman Joy,” as soft and sweet as a Georgia peach.

This follow up divides neatly (almost) into instrumentals and songs with vocals. The opener “Seven Heaven” is by far the best track with vocals, as guitar and saxophone wobble and strut against a horny backbeat that moans and groans with heavy gospel overtones. Eddie Harris could have dug into this funk with Les McCann around the time of Swiss Movement , too.

The title track stands among the best instrumentals, as Modereko continually adds and subtracts small phrases to its intricate melody like building then remodeling a Lego® house one piece at a time. In a more funky bag, “El Kabong” gets poked along by barbed horns, guitar, and organ, sounding like Booker T & The MGs sharing coffee with Herbie Mann over a Steely Dan instrumental. In “Miracles,” another old-school shuffle energized by sharp rhythm guitars and James Brown-y basslines, the ensemble playing rocks as powerful and sharp as a vintage Stax / Volt instrumental, complete with juke-joint-jumpin’ sax, guitar, and organ breakouts.


Greyboy
Soul Mosaic: A Case Study in Beats, Soul and Funk
(Ubiquity)

The first set in three years from Southern California’s premier producer / DJ Andreas Stevens marks a decade since his Freestylin’ debut helped establish acid jazz as a modern musical force.


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