Jay Foote: Ubuntu! (2006)

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How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Jay Foote: Ubuntu!
Ubuntu! is an extremely deceptive release that hides its expertise underneath seeming simplicity. Evoking the moods of such disparate recent releases as Paul Motian's Garden Of Eden and David Aaron's Cynical Rat Bastard, this record, while short at under forty minutes, sank its tentacles deep into my mind and would not let go for days on end.

Although the tunes are not all written by the band's leader, bassist Jay Foote, they share a common esthetic and perhaps even an intervallic kernel that is mutated rhythmically. The album's sound quality is on the thin side, with no reverb or ambience, a sonic sort of anti-ECM. However, this quality matches the band's lithe rhythms, melodic gifts and sheer optimismic idealism, allowing you to leave this world behind and enter theirs. "Ubuntu" literally means humanness, and Foote defines the word as a "belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity"—and connect these musicians most certainly do.

Ubuntu's music is hard to characterize, since the group's influences come from everywhere, including classical, rock, country, folk, something trippy-hippy-ish and jazz—in no particular order or degree. It does not "swing," yet it can be quite insistent rhythmically. It sounds simple, yet depth of different kinds can be found on every track.

The achingly beautiful melody of "Chanson Pour Sarah" flows logically, followed by "SFFR," a free track that uses electronics. A simple tune evoking Americana ("Midge Maude") becomes subtly complicated as it continues, followed by another free track evoking a rainstorm at the beach or on the water ("Sailboat").

Beside Jay Foote, his brother Alex Foote (guitar), pianist Evan Mazunik and saxophonist Rick Stone all come from Iowa. There is something of the corn-fed, open, friendly and slower-paced Midwestern outlook about the band, which, however, has been melded with a New York City eclecticism and intensity.

The opening track, "Ansipage," which can also be heard in a live version on Foote's web site, is a prime example of how to expertly mix and control the simple, the beautiful and the deep. The track has an exquisite architecture and a high degree of tension which is built from the central, ominous, repeated bass figure, around which the almost South Asian melody floats. There is food for the mind and the heart here, both of which get pulled more deeply with each listen.

The total effect of Ubuntu! is very much like that of Loren Stillman's How Sweet It Is in that the seemingly simple music has an inexorable logic; its beauty develops it own intensity when combined with seriousness of purpose; and many layers of intelligence can be uncovered with each listen.

Words are usually the faint shadows of the music they describe. Listen to Ubuntu! and discover this wonderful band for yourself.

Track Listing: Ansipage; Underground; Chanson Pour Sarah; SFFR; Midge Maude; Sailboat; Orange and Lemon Trees.

Personnel: Jay Foote: bass; Evan Mazunik: piano; Rick Stone: saxophones; Jay Frederick: drums, electronics; Alex Foote: guitar.

Record Label: Self Produced

Style: Modern Jazz


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