SPOKE: (r)anthems

Dan Bilawsky By

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SPOKE: (r)anthems
According to the members of SPOKE, this album—the band's third to date—"is both musical rant and anthem." So what does that mean? Well, it means that there's an intentional balancing act between the raw and refined, the focused and the untamed, and the grand and rowdy. Nothing ever goes off the rails and nothing is ever too sedate or bland, as the members of SPOKE continually switch gears and change hats. There's also enough stylistic diversity at play—pop, bop, spicy pit stops, and more—to keep things interesting.

The majority of this program is given over to covers, with everybody from Charles Mingus ("Invisible Lady") to Milton Nascimento ("Clube Da Esquina") to Miles Davis ("Move") to Willy Wonka ("Pure Imagination") getting a nod. In some instances, SPOKE tackles the most covered of songs ("Blackbird"), adding depth and dimension to music we've known forever, but in other places the band uncovers gems that are rarely visited (Thelonious Monk's "Worry Later"). The originals—funky and brief ("Ranthem"), zesty and flavorful ("The Shanghai Salsa"), and multi-themed, with chorale-like bookends sandwiching something with a bit more kick ("Shepherd")—fit in perfectly with the rest of the material.

While SPOKE is a quartet, it's not limited by its size. Trombonist Andy Hunter is equally comfortable in the stratosphere or beneath the surface, putting the trombone in places that few others are willing to go; Justin Wood's alto saxophone, while never edgy or barbed, can go from pure-toned to cutting in the blink of an eye, and he proves to be a double-threat, equally capable and comfortable on flute; bassist Daniel Loomis can lay down the funk with the best of 'em ("Tell Me Something Good"), deliver arco lines that touch the soul, and push things along ("Move"); and drummer Danny Fischer can light a fire beneath the band, blend into the scenery, and alternately play it tight or loose. Add to all of that the presence of guest conga player Ito Arguinzoni, who enlivens two salsa-leaning numbers, and the arranging skills of Hunter, who revitalizes the aforementioned Beatles classic, delivers the best take on "I Only Have Eyes For You" since Lester Bowie gave it a brassy shine, and gussies up numerous other numbers, and you have a solid formula for success here.

Track Listing

Ranthem; Tell Me Something Good; Invisible Lady; Blackbird; The Shanghai Salsa; Shepherd; I Only Have Eyes For You; Cancion Para Mi Madre; Clube Da Esquina; Move; Pure Imagination; Worry Later.


Andy Hunter: trombone; Justin Wood: alto saxophone, flute; Dan Loomis: contrabass; Danny Fischer: drums; Ito Arguinzoni: congas (5, 8).

Album information

Title: (r)anthems | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: River Records

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