The vibes slide around the theme to “Sweet and Lovely”, last note’s echo crowding this note’s tone; it sounds a little like the speed is wrong or the disc is off-center. The tune develops; the sound continues. Through lush chords and unexpected turns, Mark Josefsberg has you looking at a standard through new eyes. It’s a defining moment; it tells you these guys are different. That and the nuts-and-washers portrait on the cover.
Josefsberg’s tone is interesting. On many tracks he pours on the vibrato, which normally brings warmth to a vibraphonist. Not here – he sounds cerebral and very, very cool. Notes are set on water, and it often sounds like nothing is struck – the sound just appears. Bright chords and flowing lines float above forceful bass and busy cymbals. Josefsberg’s solo keeps changing colors: after more cool (like Teddy Charles with chords), he plays with sour chords, quoting the theme sardonically. Then he bunches heavy rhythmic chords in what sounds like gamelan music – light and pretty. The cool returns when the theme does – it’s hardly sweet, but it IS lovely.
The motor is nearly shut off for the next number; Josefsberg sounds blunt and very like a marimba. He leisurely alternates between two notes, idly passing the time. As an afterthought, he drops a couple more notes in the picture – we were listening to “Pent-up House”. Fred Berman drops in a few slides of the bass; if anything, he’s more relaxed than Josefsberg. The drums come in and start shouting; at once there’s activity. Josefsberg goes berserk with tight clusters of sound, then he tumbles down the stairs in a wonderful melodic turn. The drums prod him faster; Berman snaps his strings to keep up with the good vibes. On Berman’s solo, Josefsberg comps very soft in a way that’s charming; it propels the track. Skip Scott has a great drum solo, and Josefsberg begins another great turn before the (arbitrary-sounding) end.
The covers get your attention, but the originals (by Josefsberg and Berman) are the focus here. “Know Knews” is sort of based on “Stockholm Sweetenin’”, and Josefsberg modifies his “Pent-up House” sound by adding vibrato. Berman’s solo is the highlight: it’s active and woody. It’s also a bit soft, and Josefsberg’s comping tries hard not to drown him; he succeeds. “Threeedom!” is carnival music, part “Hot House” and part something else. Scott’s hyperactive drumming makes the track, and so does a melodic solo by Berman. “Snaky the Rat” is rhythmic and angular; Josefsberg has fun with the chords, sounding acidic and warm at different times. Scott has a tasty, SOFT drum solo. (Yes, they exist!)
Before the homestretch, there are more delightful covers. The first has a bunch of tempos, most of them fast. Josefsberg is a blur; he has to go a thousand notes an hour! It’s his show all the way, and “I Love You” is played at the end, almost as an afterthought. Next up is “Bemsha Swing” by Monk and vibraphonist Denzil Best. In tribute to Monk, Josefsberg dances around the tune, never playing it “right” – but he does. Scott marches away down the fadeout as Josefsbeg meditates. Berman gets the theme to “Alone Together”, which he bows with great fanfare. Josefberg starts with a very lonely sound, then warms up when he starts chording. He does a great bit where left and right hand trade phrases; that might be his highlight. Berman takes us out, this time with pluck.
The final track is a keeper, and far too short. Josefsberg, with light motor and a bit of echo, goes solo, and sounds like a music box as he plays an almost classical tune, simple and starkly beautiful. The only comparison I can make is Jack Brokensha’s “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” – a gem from 40 years ago. Am I comparing Josefberg’s tune to Debussy? On this one – yes. It’s a distinctive end to a very distinctive album.