Abby & Norm (who also answer to Mr. & Mrs. and are assistant professors of guitar at the Berklee College of Music in Boston) enclosed a nice personal note with this CD saying they would be “honored to know” what I think of it — as if what I think carries any weight or makes any difference When all is said and done, what I think or write is of no consequence whatsoever; what is important is the music and A&N’s commitment to it, which seems to be unconditional. The truth is, they have chosen a musical path that is for the most part unappetizing to me, but there is nothing wrong in that. There are many others, far more musically knowledgeable than I, who will undoubtedly be charmed and inspired by what is written in The Book of Norm. The compositions are Norm’s (except for Trane’s “Giant Steps”), and I would agree with guitarist John Abercrombie’s assessment, in the liner notes, that they are “harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically burning, and totally organized” — but would stop short of endorsing the statement, in an accompanying press release, that “one could swear each tune was an old great that somehow has not yet been heard.” Not really, although I did hear faint echoes of an “old great” in “Devolution,” namely the traditional Australian folk song, “Waltzing Matilda.” I couldn’t hum any of these melodies if someone offered me a blank check in return (although I know most of the Great American Songbook by heart). I suppose one could call this music fusion, as a variety of sources come into play from blues to funk, neobop to modal Jazz. If the outcome is less than pleasing to me, I can’t fault the musicianship, as everyone in the group is superb in that respect. Guest tenor George Garzone makes a strong impression on “Jungle Tune,” a weaker one on “Know It” (as Manson’s strident comping helps push him over the edge). Norm shows on “Giant Steps” that he can swing hard when the occasion demands (as do his colleagues). For pretty, there is “’Til Death Do Us Part,” a bluesy rock–a–ballad with handsome solos by all hands. Speaking of the blues, the best of that genre is embodied in “Old Blues,” which leads to the breakneck finale, “Berklee Tune.” While I can’t honestly say I found The Book of Norm a compelling read, others may find its narrative more suitable to their taste.
Track listing: Jungle Tune; Giant Steps; Hick Licks; Know It; ’Til Death Do Us Part; Cytyc Thinprep 2000; Devolution; Buffy; Old Blues; Berklee Tune (55:27).
Norman Zocher, guitar; Abigail Aronson, bass, voice, acoustic guitar; Bevan Manson, piano; Brooke Sofferman, drums. With special guest George Garzone, tenor sax (