With three highly-acclaimed nonet albums to his name, trumpeter Jim Cifelli switches gears for his fourth album, the aptly-titled Groove Station. While soul and R&B grooves suffuse the disc, there is no doubt that Cifelli and his sextet come from a jazz sensibility.
With a collective résumé that includes work with Wilson Pickett, Spencer Davis, James Brown, Little Richard, and the Blues Brothers, Cifelli's group clearly has the background and responsiveness to tackle this programme of his compositions (with the exception of "Young Dan," composed by bassist Mike Leslie). And while a direct comparison would be unfair, Cifelli clearly approaches the music from a jazz sensibility, much as the vintage Brecker Brothers did. While not as overtly funky as the Breckersalthough the driving "Old School" is certainly in the ballparkthe longer-form nature of some of the charts and their subtle metric playfulness give the material a more vivid range of colours and a stronger compositional flavour, rather than being merely a series of approachable grooves to be used as vehicles for extended soloing.
Opening with the title track, an altered blues that, with its Rocco Prestia-esque bass figure from Leslie, sounds like vintage Tower of Power, Cifelli quickly establishes the modus operandi for the whole record: infectious grooves and memorable melodies that set the stage for soloing which mostly remains on the inside, but goes out just enough to create an appealing sense of tension. Cifelli has a bright and vivacious tone that is refreshingly lacking in the usual post-Miles work of most modern trumpeters. Although Dave Douglas has never approached anything this overtly funky, Cifelli sometimes sounds how Douglas might in such a context.
While the entire ensemble clearly understands the scope of the material and digs into it with complete commitment from the boogie of "You Better Believe It" to the lighter lilt of "Time Out," the deep funk of "Chaotica," and the grungy blues of "Long Time Comin'," it's guitarist Dave Phelps who stands out, bridging the gap between straightforward rhythm and blues and the more advanced jazz harmonies that infuse Cifelli's writing. Capable of shifting from warm Wes Montgomery octave lines and chordal accompaniment to dirty, down-home raunch on a dime, Phelps is the surprise of the set, a less-than-well-known player who, on the strength of his work here, deserves a crack at broader exposure. Edgy and visceral, yet with a cerebral side that gives his more raucous solos harmonic weight, Phelps is clearly someone to watch.
While it departs from the more mainstream work of his nonet, Groove Station doesn't feel out of place in the broader context of Cifelli's career. Like his work with the nonet, where Cifelli's clever arrangements give a smaller group a big band sound, this release finds Cifelli's arranging chops intact. Earthy enough to move the most sedentary listener but intelligent enough to give the more discerning listener plenty to chew on, Groove Station works as a solid confluence between mind and body.
Groove Station, You Better Believe It, Time Out, Chaotica, Young Dan, Sertao, Long time Comin', Old School
Jim Cifelli--trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Cipriano--alto and tenor saxophones; Joel Frahm--sprano saxophone on "Chaotica"; Dave Phelps--guitar; Will Boulware--keyboards; Mike Leslie--bass; Ray Marcica--drums
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