Jeno Somlai approaches the keyboard with a percussionist's sensibilityrhythm, rhythm, rhythmhere on his debut disc, Let It Go. That's not a surprise, given that the Milwaukee-based musician is primarily a drummer who took up the piano just four years ago. The disc opens with Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady," sounding sort of like Art Blakey's arrangement for "A Night in Tunisia." The song churns along for eight minutes of hard-driving Latin grooves, lots of percussion and a percussive pianoSomlai'sbehind tenor sax and trumpet. At one point, about six minutes into the tune, the group goes into a percussion-only mode, a rolling, rollicking, rumbing knockabout, reminding me of Hugh Masekela's touring band, when everybody pushes their primary instrument aside and gets into the beat.
It's an infectious sound, and the opener sets the tone, though there are a couple of more mainstream tunes: "Libby," apparently the first song Somlai wrote, after getting into keyboardsand it has a wonderful, lovely melody; and the title tune, with the leader working some darker tones on the Fender Rhodes.
"Se Le Ve" drives hard, congas and clave bubbling along on a rolling boil behind the bright horn work; and on "Have You Met Miss Jones" (Rodgers and Hart), Somlai's drums and Robert Figueroa's congas present a smooth, cool, burbling flow of rhythm. Wayne Shorter's "One By One" features congas, timbales, bongos, drums, and Somlaivery focused, not over-reaching, bringing a perussive shine to the sound with his relatively simple rhythmic piano mode.
Track Listing: Golden Lady, Se Le Ve, Let It Go, One By One, Libby, Go East, Have You Met Miss Jones, J.A.S., Dejalo Ir
Personnel: Jeno Somlai--piano, Fender Rhodes, drums, percussion; Jamie Breiwick--trumpet; Mike Plog--trumpet; Scott Van Domelan--tenor sax; Steve Einerson--piano; Doug Ebert--bass; Robert Figueroa--congoas, percussion; Dave Bayles--drums, percussion; Hector "Vivo' Rodriguez--timbalesUlisis Santiago--congas; Mark Davis--piano
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.