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Bruce Torff: Down the Line

Karl Ackermann By

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Chicago area native, Bruce Torff, leads his second outing on Summit Records, following up on Look Again (2013). Torff is, first and foremost, an academician with three Master Degrees and a PhD from Harvard. He is a professor at Hofstra University and a prolific author, as well an excellent keyboardist and composer. Torff's slim recorded musical history dates back to composing credits on his brother, bassist Brian Torff's Hitchhiker of Karoo (Self-Produced, 1985). He later recorded as part of guitarist John Stein's quartet on Hustle Up! (Knitting Factory, 1995). The common thread in Torff's previous work had been straight-ahead, mainstream jazz but on Down the Line he conveys a distinctive fusion component to the music.

Saxophonist Joel Frahm and guitarist Pete McCann return from Torff's original group. Frahm's more notable recordings include his duo outing with Brad Mehldau, Don't Explain (Palmetto Records, 2000), and Jane Monheit's In the Sun (Silverline, 2005) along with a half-dozen leader releases. McCann has lead his own groups since the late 1990s and is known for his diverse range that covers sub-genres from jazz-rock to avant-garde. Drummer Ben Wittman has been part of more than one-hundred recordings as a multi-instrumentalist, producer or engineer working with a range of artists from folk artist Lucy Kaplansky to Sting to the Either/Orchestra.

Of special note, Down the Line represents what is believed to be Lew Soloff's final recording before his death in March 2015, two weeks after completing this album. The legendary trumpeter's resume includes Frank Sinatra, the Mingus Big Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. On Troff's album he appears on only two tracks, "This I Promise You" and the closing track, the poignant "Early Sunday," Soloff playing lower here than his characteristic style.

The eleven original Torff compositions are democratically arranged to allow for Torff, Frahm and McCann to take brief solos though Down the Line is more an ensemble effort. The stylistic variations include funk oriented pieces such as the title track, "Tribal Function" and "Well of Tears" and the furtive and more improvisational "Last Dispatch from the Road to Hell." Brazilian undercurrents play a role on "This I Promise You," "Beginning to End," "Memoriam" and "Once and for All."

While Torff's strength may not be trailblazing improvisation and Down the Line isn't dominated by break-out solos, he nevertheless has a unique harmonic view and the ability to bring lyrical and angular qualities together seamlessly. Torff's melodies are swayed by a contemporary and forward-looking perspective that keeps the album from falling into the increasingly large black hole of fusion/smooth jazz. Down the Line is an enthusiastic and tasteful album that should be broadly appealing.

Track Listing: Enceladus; Down the Line; Wave of Silence; Tribal Function; This I Promise You; Well of Tears; Beginning to End; Last Dispatch from the Road to Hell; Memoriam; Once and for All; Early Sunday.

Personnel: Joel Frahm: saxophone; Pete McCann: guitar; Lew Soloff: trumpet (5, 11); Bruce Torff: keyboards; Ben Wittman: drums, percussion.

Title: Down the Line | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Summit Records

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