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Paco Charlin: Jazz Frequency Group Vol. IV

Mark F. Turner By

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Like two sides of a coin, Paco Charlin's recordings have alternated between modern and mainstream jazz, each imprint distinctly different. An exceptional bassist with the acumen and youthful presence of a Ron Carter or Dave Holland, Charlin has a deep reverence for the art-form—its past and its present—that is undeniable.

Dipping back into a rich wellspring, Jazz Frequency Group IV could be a case study in taking past favorites, keeping their spirit intact, yet injecting them with new fortitude. In the pattern of his previous "Frequency" recordings, the format is simple: a trio delivering a set of standards. But don't be fooled; there's nothing restrictive or trite about these familiar classics.

Joined by saxophonist Walter Smith III (who has performed with Terence Blanchard, Christian Scott, and Sean Jones) and drummer Johnathan Blake (who has performed with Russell Malone, Donny McCaslin, and the Mingus Big Band), the three musicians emerge as one, performing the prescribed charts, yet with a sharp fervor that is doused in spontaneity. These are not deconstructions, a la The Bad Plus, yet neither are they stoic or nostalgic.

Charlin's muscular yet flexible double bass is the bedrock. Confident, stylish, and resonant, his bass-walk swaggers on Thelonious Monk's forever-cool "Evidence" while Smith repeats the memorable vamp allowing Blake to improvise as the primary soloist. Blake continues to leave his mark (like the ubiquitous Eric Harland); his spidery traps seeking perfection, constantly weaving an elaborate web in Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" as Charlin clears the path with a searching solo.

And then there's Smith; who gives an absolutely dazzling performance, echoing Branford Marsalis' bravado and Dexter Gordon's smooth tone. On Gershwin's "But Not For Me" his voice is stunning, tempestuous, and aerial as the trio makes the standard dance.

Each piece is delightfully rendered with Bill Evans' "Blue In Green," a bass/sax duo, as the centerpiece. It's emotional depth is mined and unearths a bounty of soulfulness where each note is meticulously phrased. Charlin shows why these old jewels should never be forgotten.

Time-enduring standards continue to be performed, maybe to the dismay of modernists or the joy of purists. But the key to keeping them alive may be found in reinvention: that ability to take something that has been and make it new and relevant. Jazz Frequency Group IV is a scintillating example.

Track Listing: Soul Eyes; But Not For Me; Nefertiti; Evidence; Blue In Green; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Bemsha Swing; I'll Be Seeing You.

Personnel: Walter Smith III: tenor sax; Paco Charlin: double bass; Johnathan Blake drums.

Title: Jazz Frequency Group Vol. IV | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Free Code Jazz Records

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