The Justin Rothberg Group is a quintet led by the versatile New York-based guitarist who wrote eleven of the dozen numbers on the group's third CD, a diverse enterprise that covers a lot of ground, from funk, fusion and blues to rock, R&B and occasional mainstream jazz. Funk is the groove in which Rothberg's sometimes abrasive guitar most often lands, a stance that is abetted and reinforced by his solicitous teammates.
Even though Rothberg's guitarand mandolinserve as the album's focal point, it's good to have a partner as earnest and resourceful as Todd Groves on the front line. Groves is laudable on tenor sax, flute, melodica and especially soprano sax, which he plays on two numbers: "Piece of Mind" and "Tom G" (more of that would have been welcome). Speaking of "Piece of Mind," Bob James' special effects-laden shuffle is the only tune not written by Rothberg. Groves' muscular tenor commands attention on "Hurricane Mouse," "South Beach Banjo," "Green Room," "The Layoff Song" and "Hot Dog Ranch," his agile flute on "Hotel Show Repeat" and "Beach on Christmas."
The group's able rhythm section (bassist Jon Price, drummer Hiroyuki Matsuura, percussionist Andy O'Neill) is sharp and efficient, performing its tasks with deftness and assurance. Price adds robust solos on "G Sus," "South Beach Banjo" and "Tom G," and the outcome would surely have been far less persuasive without Matsuura or O'Neill on board. An even-handed appraisal must rest largely on the charm of Rothberg's compositions, which are by and large less than incisive, hampered as they are by a preference for rock and fusion that beclouds the album's jazz content. For what it is, however, Hurricane Mouse is well-designed and well-performed, and stars are awarded more for the musicianship than the music itself. In other words, Rothberg and his colleagues follow their game plan well; what that means in terms of musical pleasure rests in the mind and heart of each listener.
Hurricane Mouse; G Sus; Piece of Mind; Hotel Show Repeat; Bad Apple; South Beach
Banjo; Tom G; Green Room; Beach on Christmas; Old Gift Card; The Lay Off Song; Hot Dog