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Tobias Gebb and Unit 7: free at last

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Like a bird uncaged, drummer Craig McIver percussionist expresses himself without restraint on free at last, recorded with Unit 7. The collection is a mix of original songs and covers.

Gebb is a freelance musician on the New York scene. Having appeared on recordings with Lenny Kravitz and Donald Fagen, Gebb has also served as a leader with the piano-bass-drums group Trio West, and a larger ensemble known as Unit 7. For free at last, Unit 7 is actually two groups. Gebb and pianist Eldad Zvulon appear on all tracks. The rest are split between groups of five and six, plus two other musicians who appear on one song each.

As its name implies, "Spitball" is a sassy piece. The horn section of Joe Magnarelli, Joel Frahm, and Chris Huson leads, with Ugonna Okegwo having bass duties. Frahm starts the series of middle solos on tenor sax, followed by Magnarelli on trumpet and Gross on alto saxophone. The band captures the mood of the title, which is a wink at politicians who symbolically throw spitballs at one another.

"Bop De Bop" is a calypso jazz track, featuring Ron Blake on the tenor. Neal Miner handles the bass, and Stacy Dillard plays tenor in the background. After the middle solo, all stops as Gebb exercises his kit without accompaniment.

Going political again, "Free at Last" is both a nod to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and a tribute to President Barack Obama, particularly his performance during the primary and general election campaigns of 2008. This slow, charming piece features Magnarelli, Frahm, Gross, and Okegwo. As before, the horns blend superbly during the song's main theme. The intensity builds during a dramatic sequence in which the saxophones and trumpet weave the three-note theme with some ad-libs.

Neel Murgai joins the ensemble, playing sitar on a cover of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." Frahm, Gross, and Okegwo are featured. Zvulun contributes a brief solo, but it's mostly Murgai and the saxophones that carry this piece.

Despite being the leader of this band, and composer of five of the eight songs, Gebb is mostly content to be a role player. The saxophones lead most of the way, but every track has the feel of a solid unit.

Track Listing: 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.

Personnel: Tobias Gebb: drums; Bobby Watson: alto saxophone (1, 4, 7); Joe Magnarelli: trumpet (2, 3, 6); Ron Blake: tenor saxophone (5); Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone (2, 3, 6, 8); Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone (1, 4, 5, 7); Mark Gross: alto saxophone (2, 3, 6, 8); Ugonna Okegwo: acoustic bass (2, 3, 6, 8); Neal Miner: acoustic bass (1, 4, 5, 7); Neel Murgai: sitar (8); Eldad Zvulun: piano.

Title: free at last | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Yummyhouse Records

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