The vibraphone has long been a staple among jazz instruments, preferred by such musicians as the legendary Lionel Hampton and contemporary Gary Burton. However, its next of kin, the marimba, isn't heard nearly often enough. Tommy Kesecker is one who is proficient with both instruments.
Along with bassist Pat Klobas, Kesecker leads The Klobas/Kesecker Ensemble, a small group of free-spirited musicians. Klobas, a graduate of San Francisco State University, has performed with Rosemary Clooney, The Three Tenors, and the Skywalker Symphony, among others. His credits include movie and TV soundtracks, and recordings with Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman, and the "Star Wars Trilogy" with composer John Williams. Kesecker graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has performed or recorded with Larry Vuckovich's Blue Bulkan Ensemble, Michael Feinstein, The Tkvibes Trio, and Zakir Hussain.
The four-man ensemble has released No Gravity,
a self-produced album of seven original songs, as well as a few standards and pop tunes arranged by the two leaders. Gene Burkert on woodwinds and David Rokeach on drums complete the quartet. Hussain appears as a guest, playing the tablas.
The ensemble delivers sharply on Johnny Mandel's "Barbara's Theme." With Kesecker doubling on vibes and marimba, Burkert carries most of the lead on the tenor sax. With Klobas and Rokeach subtly laying the background, Kesecker takes off on an elegant vibraphone solo, at times reaching low notes seldom heard from this instrument. Burkert returns for the closing sequence with some rapid-fire notes while Rokeach gives the drum kit a workout.
Klobas' double bass figures prominently in the title song, which was written by Kesecker. Burkert leads on flute, but Rockeach and Hussain add emphasis. Kesecker's vibes work is subtle until it comes time for his solo. Kesecker takes to the marimba on "Z-Magic," which Klobas wrote for Hussain. Burkert and Rokeach sit this one out.
Kesecker and Klobas perform a duet on "Five Scapes," with Kesecker working the marimba. Berkert again takes lead with the alto sax on the often-covered "People Make the World Go Round." The ensemble makes this version work by employing a Brazilian beat. The musicians add emphasis with an all-stop at the end of the first chorus.
Any time an album features more original songs than covers is a good time. When the originals are free-spirited, unbound by time or other restraints, so much the better. Add to these a few covers that have something fresh and invigorating about them, and you've got an excellent album. No Gravity
scores all fronts.