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Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky

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Tenor saxman Skerik is such an irrepressible personality on his horn, and such a joyously human presence in groups like Critters Buggin', Garage à Trois and Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing, that it's sometimes easy to underestimate him and think of his talents as more instinctive and spontaneous than analytic or accomplished. The wryness of his overall musical presentation and the fact that he's usually featured in groove-oriented settings may have also encouraged some listeners to view him as a sort of jazz Ron Wood: unerringly musical, but not exactly deep.

Besides, he's got a funny name. And upon superficial examination, Husky, the sophomore effort from Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, is packed with just what one might expect from the veteran player: some merciless grooves, bracing tenor work that's viscerally witty and emphatically alive, and an overall droll presentation.

It also features superlative jazz writing and arranging for septet. Alto player/flutist Hans Teuber and Wurlitzer player/trombonist Steve Moore contribute all the compositions, save two (Hammond player Joe Doria's "Fry His Ass and the group piece "Daddy Won't Taint Bye-Bye ). The tunes are both flat-out great (memorable, varied, intelligently structured) and deftly designed for this band (making wonderful use of all the horns' tones, exploiting the dual-instrument capabilities of Teuber, Moore and clarinet/baritone player Craig Flory). Five horns manage to sound like twice that many—yet even on the same song, the combination of drum kit and tenor with a dash of Wurli sounds like all the instrumentation a song could ever require.

"Go to Hell, Mr Bush has a neatly palindromic structure: an a cappella flute intro, a sneakily insinuating, deeply textured head and some Skerik-led horn polyphony, then the head again and a flute outro. That synopsis does nothing to convey the richness of the stacked horns, or drummer John Wicks' minimalist snare/kick groove in the composed sections of the tune—or the middle part's singing, joyous glee of everybody-in-the-pool simultaneous soloing. "Syncopate the Taint has a typically cinematic, unfolding theme (Moore's warm, caressing Wurlitzer chords are particularly prominent here) and more testifying horn polyphony after that—this time of a particularly Mingusy, Baptist church variety. It also makes its staggering dynamic and temporal shifts seem completely organic and natural.

"Fry His Ass is a mid-tempo scorcher that alternates outright horn bombast with a certain vague pensiveness. The leader's tenor break is pure, gorgeous, greasy soul—an absolutely perfect saxophone solo, effectively adorned by a nice descending ensemble horn line. It seems impossible to follow, but Flory's subsequent clarinet statement builds up its own unhurried momentum and pulls the piece into the concluding theme without any loss of musical drama. Here again, the way several horns produce so much color, and the overall human warmth of the performances, bring Charles Mingus very much to mind.

The multiple rhythmic influences on this recording exist together seamlessly: you'll hear James Brown breakdowns, New Orleans third-line vigor, hip-hop grooves—and lots and lots of jazz. Unless an unexpected masterpiece appears in the months to come, this qualifies as the best album of the year.


Track Listing: The Third Rail; Go To Hell Mr. Bush; Syncopate the Taint; Fry His Ass; Don

Personnel: Skerik: tenor saxophone; Craig Flory: baritone saxophone; Dave Carter: trumpet; Hans Teuber: alto saxophone, flute; Steve Moore: trombone, wurlitzer; Joe Doria: Hammond B-3; John Wicks: drums.

Title: Husky | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Hyena Records

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