After composing thematic concepts albums like the critically acclaimed Seasons Of Saratoga
, composer and pianist Cole Broderick's latest effort, Zone
, is an unabashed commercial release. With electric bass, electric keyboard and often a rock backbeat from his two drummers, Broderick's new mix of fusion, rhythm and blues and contemporary soul aims for accessibility. But what would end up as an embarrassing diversion for a lesser artist results in a quite tuneful album from this gifted composer.
A large portion of the tracks on Zone fall somewhere between post-bop and fusion. The most memorable of these feature the versatile strength of alto saxophonist Keith Pray. Pray keeps the roots from pulling out of the ground on many of these tracks, creating dense, fiery solos rife with early Trane-inspired overtones and harmonic ideas. He is most enjoyable on "MooCoo," "Ho-Hum" and "Outlaw." Broderick's light touch is most compelling on the Monk-ish "Hurry Up" and "A Song For Dad," the former showing off some fleet-fingered soloing and the latter offering gentle cadences.
On the jazz pop side, featured vocalist Jeannie Blake is an impressive interpreter of melody and she delivers her lines with a sassy, confident swing. Her self-penned "Out On A Limb" is an irresistible slice of funk-jazz that really deserves mainstream airplay. Her other track "Accountability" is almost as good.
Throughout Zone, the natural musicality of Broderick shines through on songs like the title track and "Good Grief," but his open embrace of contemporary music can definitely become cloying at times. This "easy listening" effect reaches its low point on "Irish Dreams," which sounds like an outtake from a 70s Bob James album. Listening beyond the moods created by the high production values on Zone, another drawback is that Broderick regularly fails to match the energy of Keith Pray when trading off solos, resulting in some rather anti-climactic passages.
All in all, though, Zone is a winning effort by Cole Broderick and easily recommended for those who like their jazz on the lighter side. Purists steer clear.
On the web: www.colebroderick.com
Personnel: Cole Broderick, piano; Keith Pray, saxophone; Pat Perkinson, Stephan Orsini, bass; Gene Garone, Bob Halek, drums; Jeannie Blake, vocals.