With Octobop, what you see (and hear) is what you get: "octo," as in octet, and "bop," as in swinging, straight-from-the-shoulder jazz as practiced by the legendary masters who rewrote the music's vocabulary in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Saxophonist and prime mover Geoff Roach leads the California-based group on its sixth CD, Out of Nowhere, which, much like the first five, is likable from end to end, blending the group's readiness and camaraderie after fifteen years together with an obvious love and respect for the music.
True, none of the soloists would ever be mistaken for Bird, Diz, Brownie, Miles or other bop icons; on the other hand, they are plain-spoken and earnest, giving every number the best they have to offer. The well-drawn charts, most by Roach or guitarist Jack Conway, follow the same unswerving path, emphasizing melody, harmony and rhythm with an occasional dash of humor to brighten the mood. Speaking of which, bassist Steve Swallow's carefree "Bug in a Rug" sets the tone for what is to follow, which encompasses jazz originals by Gerry Mulligan ("Lonesome Boulevard"), Paul Desmond ("Embarcadero"), Tadd Dameron ("Whatever Possessed Me"), Wayne Shorter ("El Gaucho"), Teddy Edwards ("Sunset Eyes") and Jim Hall ("Romaine"). Each one is cordially redeemed, as are Henry Mancini's "Charade" and "Baby Elephant Walk" and the standards "Out of Nowhere," "I'll Take Romance" and "Beautiful Love." Conway wrote and arranged the keenly rhythmic "Cars and Coffee."
Roach arranged "Out of Nowhere" as a mambo, Brian Brockhouse "Charade" as a waltz that segues into straight 4/4 time with Latin overtones. Elsewhere, tempos and colors (with the possible exception of "Charade") are fairly close to what one might expect to hear from groups of comparable size, experience and proficiency. The same holds true for soloists; while no one stands out, everyone is adequate, and every member of the ensemble has at least one chance express himself. Conway solos most often, and is animated and pleasing from the opening measures of "Bug in a Rug" through the Spanish-infused cadences of "El Gaucho." With all due respect to the other numbers, "I'll Take Romance" and "Beautiful Love" prove once again that when it comes to enchanting music you really can't beat the tried-and-true standards.
After fifteen years, Octobop keeps rolling along and moving forward. Let us hope that trend continues for the foreseeable future. Jazz needs more such regional groups who may never earn fame or fortune but do what they can to help keep the music alive and kicking.
Bug in a Rug; Out of Nowhere; Lonesome Boulevard; Embarcadero; Cars and Coffee; I’ll Take Romance; Charade; Beautiful Love; Baby Elephant Walk; Whatever Possessed Me?; Romaine; Sunset Eyes; El Gaucho.
Geoff Roach: leader, baritone, tenor sax; Randy Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn; Eric Patience: alto, tenor sax; Jon Schermer: trombone; Jack Conway: guitar; Rick Gray: vibraphone; Brian Brockhouse: bass; Michael Henning: drums..
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