Tobias Gebb's prodigious talents as a composer, arranger, bandleader, and drummer run throughout the admirable free at last. A positive, good-natured quality pervades the project. Despite the disc's eight tracks being relatively short, each is substantial and complete unto itself.
Gebb writes distinctive melodies, clothes them in a variety of forms, and arranges the material in imaginative and enjoyable ways. His own "Spitball" moves between funk and medium tempo swing, while the standard, "You Don't Know What Love Is," encompasses changes in tempo and meter, and Neel Murgai's sitar coexists with the horns on Lennon and McCartney's "Tomorrow Never Knows."
A large revolving cast of some of New York City's significant straight-ahead players (only Gebb and pianist Eldad Zvulun are on every cut) feels like a single unit, and each of the soloists plays very well in a limited amount of space. Gebb's straightforward swing, funk and calypso rhythms invariably lift the music, and the drummer adds a number of colorful, unobtrusive details. He employs a castanet and stick combination for most of the somber "You Don't Know What Love Is," while his blending of mallet and brush adds spice to his own "Free At Last."
In a disc filled with noteworthy tracks, Gebb's calypso, "Bop Be Dop," merits special recognitiona celebration that should last forever. Tenor saxophonist Ron Blake's solo tells an arresting tale, without haste or dazzling complexity; at one point, nearly slowing down to a standstill, all but ignoring the persistent churning of bass and drums. Working in conjunction with Zvulun and bassist Neal Miner, Gebb plays one of the most compelling drum improvisations in recent memory. Antic touches, like the patter of sticks on the hi-hat over the boom of the bass drum and occasional hits to a cowbell, are part of a disciplined, neatly evolving statement. Not unlike the rest of the record, Gebb's organizational skills don't get in the way of having a good time, and he's not shy about letting the listener in on the fun.
Blues for Drazen; My Love; Spitball; You Don't Know What Love Is; Bop Be Dop; Free At Last; Softly as in a Morning Contemplation; Tomorrow Never Knows.