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Cliff Colon: Contraband

John Barron By

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Cliff Colon: Contraband Tenor saxophonist Cliff Colon makes his recording debut as a leader with Contraband, a disc containing jazz arrangements of music from a 1980s 8-bit video game called Contra. The disc's nine tracks chronicle each level of the game, in sequential order.

Underneath the novelty of playing jazzed-up versions of electronic video game music lies clever arranging and hard-blowing solos. After the thirteen-second anthem "Intro," Colon and company set off on an adventurous journey through a mostly modal, post-bop landscape. As might be expected, the melodies heard throughout the disc are simple, yet work surprisingly well in a jazz setting. The up-tempo "Jungle" features scorching solos by Colon, alto saxophonist J. Charles, guitarist Frank Seeberger and keyboardist Eric Verlinde. The minor-key samba feel of "Base" features intense drumming by D'Vonne Lewis and a Chick Corea-inspired Rhodes workout by Verlinde.

Colon takes control of "The Boss" with an extended, well-developed solo. Here, the leader manipulates the full-range of his horn with firm technical control. More than willing to share the spotlight with his talented ensemble, Colon lets Charles steer the ship with a blistering alto solo on "Waterfall."

"Snow Field" opens with Spanish-influenced coloring courtesy of Seeberger's versatile approach. The guitarist maintains a strong presence throughout the session with ample solo chops and in-the-pocket comping, as on the driving shuffle "Energy Zone." After the dramatic, highly-arranged "Alien Lair," the disc closes with "End Credits," a serene tension reliever in 6/8 featuring a lyrical upright-bass solo by Chuck Kistler.

Hats off to Colon for bringing fresh sources of material to a straight-ahead situation. Kudos also to artist Ron Harper for his ultra-cool cover design.


Track Listing: Intro; Jungle; Base; The Boss; Waterfall; Snow Field; Energy Zone; Alien Lair; End Credits.

Personnel: Cliff Colon: tenor sax; J. Charles: alto sax; Frank Seeberger: guitar; Eric Verlinde: Rhodes piano, Hammond organ; Chuck Kistler: bass; D'Vonne Lewis: drums.

Title: Contraband | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Self Produced


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