September 2012: Exuberance

RJ Johnson By

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Chris' Jazz Café
Philadelphia, PA
September 12, 2012

Amongst the diverse array of working jazz groups encompassing the Philadelphia jazz scene, Exuberance—a band which performs a book of entirely original music—has emerged as a popular interest amongst musicians and non-musicians alike. By combining thoughtful writing with an intricate yet engaging style of jazz improvisation, the group has managed to create music which remains unambiguous while retaining a natural intellectual curiosity.

The sound of the group accurately reflects the diverse backgrounds of the individual musicians. While their own musical experiences may be vastly dissimilar, it is perhaps this very element which provides the necessary impetus for creating compelling new material. Alto saxophonist Mike Cemprola and bassist Mike Boone are both busy sidemen on the straight-ahead Jazz scene, and both bring a strong sense of jazz tradition into their playing. Vibraphonist Hideo Morris, percussionist Doc Gibbs, and drummer Francois Zayas possess a natural command of intricate Afro-Cuban and Latin styles, adding new rhythmic interest and a steady groove to each tune. The band is led by pianist Matt Yaple, who also composes all of the group's material. While Yaple's skills as a soloist clearly demonstrate a commitment to improvisation and instrumental prowess, it is his compositional know-how which stands out, above all. By combining jazz vocabulary with rhythmic concepts present in many types of world music, Exuberance has developed a group sound unlike any other working band in Philadelphia.

The band included several new compositions in its set at Chris' Jazz Café Amongst them was the a medium tempo set opener, "Be Gentle with Yourself," featuring solos from Cemprola, Yaple, and Morris. Yaple's tunes tend to feature melodies which can be more sparse than the typically knotty style often associated with jazz composition, notably the complexity of bebop. This allows the tunes to stand on their own without having to rely on instrumental pyrotechnics to create interest. Conversely, however, Yaple's "To the Distant Observer" was marked by a syncopated, Thelonious Monk-informed melody. Each note was emphasized with a punch provided by each member of the band in a manner similar to Monk's famed standard, "Evidence." As a composer, Yaple is adept at writing melodies which become familiar to the ear very quickly. He utilizes complexity in a tasteful fashion, never doing so simply for the sake of self indulgence. At the same time, his atypical harmonic sense displays an obvious command of a wide variety of compositional techniques and musical influences.

Though Yaple's original compositions may be the focus of Exuberance's live performances, instrumental showcases still find their way into each set. Hideo Morris and Mike Cemprola were each given free rein to solo on nearly every song throughout the set. However, it was the percussionists who were provided with an unusually substantial amount of unaccompanied space. The lively "Nut," for instance, began with an extended a cappella drum set introduction by the Cuban-born Zayas, who also specializes in hand percussion such as the cajón.

Zayas' experience with these instruments came across very clearly in his drum kit work. During his introduction, he used nearly every part of the set, even playing on the sides of various drums to create the effect of both hand percussion and drum kit playing together. Dynamically, he seemed to approach the kit from the perspective of a percussionist, and proved adept at utilizing Afro-Cuban rhythmic concepts within the contexts of both soloist and accompanist. The interaction between Zayas and Gibbs was immediately gratifying, and it was this unique mixture of rhythmic ideas which provided an intricate yet rigid foundation for the rest of the band. Gibbs received his own solo introduction on "My Open Arms," setting up a hypnotic groove on cajón and then beginning a vocal chant which segued into the melody, stated by the rest of the band. Ideas like this are what makes Exuberance a noteworthy musical unit. Jazz audiences are not accustomed to groups which feature diverse instrumentation from other cultures and genres of world music, and the unusual techniques associated with these instruments provide an undoubtedly rare experience.

None of the tunes performed in this set were included in Exuberance's only recording, Exuberance One (Self Produced, 2012). Hopefully the group will record a follow-up album once its material has been perfected. If this set was any indication as to the readiness of the band, a new release may not be out of the question for the near future.

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