The great Miles Davis
did it. Chick Corea
did it with different groups. Michael Brecker
did it with family. Even the educated John Scofield
did it. Not to mention Mike Stern
. They all did it and we lauded them for it. Most college big bands in America reserve some time in their sets to do it. Even the electrifying Chris Potter
regularly lets loose and does it.
Nothing more natural than getting busy on a steady, thrusting groove and letting it all hang out. You see, the secret is all in the build-up towards a climax. A few heartfelt licks here, a few syncopated hits there, and the crowd will cheer every time.
Indeed, the idea of fusing funk beats with jazz-informed improvisations has much appeal for players for whom mainstream jazz's stylistic puritanism prove too rigid or just plain unsatisfying. Call it what you willcontemporary jazz, jazz-rock or funk-jazzbut the Dave Weckl
s, Tribal Tech
s and Weather Report
all got the goods to tickle anybody's fancy. That said, though the majority of the recordings produced since the genre's halcyon days in the '80s come as attractive as anyone could ask, most contemporary releases remain predictable and somewhat prosy. Unfortunately, heady demonstrations of technical prowess and rehashed formulas are not rare. As if the genre's performative and compositional practices have somehow been stilled in a handful of formal conventions and templates inside which players merely add their own colours. In short, since MBASE leader Steve Coleman
daring hybridizations, no notable musicological developments have shaken the genre's contentions. That said, the genre remains interesting nevertheless.
Though the three albums below all but shine for their originality or innovative factory, each deserve a worthy listen.
Truth Be Told
Reputed in jazz circles as the Pat Metheny original bassist, Mark Egan hails from the Jaco Pastorius school of burly, fretless bass romping. A veteran groovster, producer, composer, and since 1992, recording studio and label owner, Egan claims a strong foothold in the jazz fusion arena, and as such may very well be one of the late bassist's most devoted and successful follower with Gary Willis, Jimmy Haslip and Richard Bona. His work with smooth jazz titan David Sanborn, Brazilian guitar ace Toninho Horta, fusion unit Elements (which he co-founded), songstress Marianne Faithfull and pop icon Sting evidence his value as a versatile and capable accompanist. But it is through self-produced projects such as Truth be Told that fans truly discover the industrious bassist's beaming talents.
From "Frog Legs," the cushy opener, to "After Thought," the sitar-buzzing, cloudy vignette that closes the record, amateurs of powerhouse fusion a la Weckl, Corea and Steps Ahead shall find in Egan's menu a filling order. Take for example the rock-tinged, backbeat-driven romp that is "Pepe" and its frantic, irregular meters, the similarly engaging "Gargoyle," or the swaying yet hulking moves of the title tune, and you find yourself tabled in front of a silver plate of the finest fusion treats. Moreover, a deserving mention goes to master drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and reedman Bill Evans for their authoritative playing throughout the album.
Also an experienced sideman turned leader, trumpeter Carl Fischer and his Organic Groove Ensemble pack as much punch as the former Metheny alum's outing, but with a less fusion-y sound and a stylistically more varied program. In "Wienhiem Blues" for example, the rhythm section's repetitive stomping behind Fischer's swung theme reminds of John Scofield's B3-fueled, crossover jaunts. On "Kirican Afternoon / Sonho Medley" things take a radical turn into the easy-listening territory before venturing into the straight-up funk route with "Open Up." And, the rolling, percussion-driven 6/8 feel that steamrolls "Adverse Times" also provide a rather sharp change of scenery. Throughout both "Open Up" as well as "Wienhiem Blues," Jay Azzolina's Mike Stern-reminiscent wailing kicks things up a notch, something his colleagues do not quite achieve in their solos.
A happy surprise comes when the eerie, Harmon-muted theme of "TuTu" peeks through its haunting, synth-washed backdrop. Penned by bassist-producer Marcus Miller for his former employer Miles Davis, the minimalistic ditty is a most welcome addition in this somewhat artistically unfocused project. Notwithstanding the lack of focus and continuity on the conceptual level, Fischer and company pull through rather well on the performance level, even in the questionable spoken commentaries ("Adverse Times") and cringingly ear-grabbing R&B songs ("Movin' Out and On" and "Freeport to Fire Island.")
Conversely to Fischer's soporific ear-candies, it is a gruff, cartoon-esque chant that greets listeners to Terje Lie's Urban Vacation. The voice, that of Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, scats gleefully as the drums toll a steady, loose hi-hat beat. Then enters some pristine-sounding guitars and synths, which are soon caught up by a drenched-in-delay flute and sterile saxophone who both plant the melodya pentatonic, riff-like theme, of coursein the highly compressed aural spectrum. An artificial-sounding horn section interjects repetitive rhythmic figures during the melody's rests, as if cued by an invisible conductor. The slapped bass holds the groove, locked in the thumping bass drum and constant snare jabs. The groove sure feels good, but a feeling of deja vu quickly surfaces...The following tracks feel as good, but the feeling rears its ugly head yet again...
Lie's Urban Vacation is in fact his producers' record. Nothing wrong with that. Happens all the time in the pop and country world. After all, who could blame an artist for wanting the creme de la creme to come in and help with the effort? Moreover, with cream comes smoothness, in terms of both the sound and the operation. In the "contemporary jazz" worldwhere smoothness is de rigueurfew come more recommended than Jimmy Haslip and Jeff Lorber comes times to compose, produce and perform in the studio. Put them together on the same session and you assuredly get a good-sounding product (to Lie's credit, he co-wrote three of the ten songs and wholly composed one.) But, unfortunately for Lie, slick productions and composer credits fails to hide some of the album's performative flaws.
Challenged technically, the Norwegian saxophonist has a tendency to stiffen up, which causes him to approximate the execution of his phrases rather than effortlessly spelling them atop the pulse. On the other hand, his intonation is, for the most part, accurate. But, the aforementioned imprecise, nuance-less quality of his execution shadows the otherwise amicable nature of his playing. As expected, the rhythm section unfailingly plays in the pocket (most notably on Roy Ayers' "Red Black and Green"), and guest guitarist Michael Landau contributes some intense shredding. As matter of fact, both the latter's presence and the rhythm section's sure groove makes the listen worthwhile, that is, if you can tolerate the smooth jazz conundrum.
So, do it! Abandon yourself in some guilt-free fusion music. As Notorious B.I.G. rapped, "It's all good!"
Tracks and Personnel
Truth Be Told
Tracks: Frog Legs; Gargoyle; Truth Be Told; Sea Saw; Cafe Risque; Shadow Play; Blue Lunch; Rhyme Or Reason; Blue Rain; Pepe; After Thought.
Personnel: Mark Egan: bass; Bill Evans: saxophones; Mitch Forman: keyboards; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Roger Squitero: percussion.
Tracks: Wienhiem Blues; Adverse Times; Movin' Out and On; Kirican Afternoon/Sonho Medley; Downeaster Alexa; Open Up; TuTu; Freeport to Fire Island; Flo n Mayn Spirit; Elegy for the Fisherman.
Personnel: Carl Fischer: trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone; Ron Oswanski: Hammond B3 organ, synth, Fender Rhodes, accordion; Brian Wolfe: drums and percussion; John Scarpulla: tenor sax, soprano sax andspoken word; Jay Azzolina: guitar; Brent Carter: vocals (4, 10); Ozzie Melendez: trombone; Emiliano Valerio: tabla and percussion (2, 3, 5).
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Bail Out; Crazy Groove; Dance On the Water; Blue Funk; Sedona; Red Black and Green; So Retro; Coral Dream; Parlophone; Tonight.
Personnel: Terje Lie: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Jeff Lorber: keyboards and guitar; Jimmy Haslip: bass and scat vocals; Tony Moore: drums; Michael Landau: guitar; Sharon Perry: vocals; Ernest Tibbs: bass (1, 4); Jeff Olson: drums (4); Dwight Sills: guitar (6); Gary Meek: saxophone; Ron King: trumpet.