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Spajazzy: Spajazzy (Featuring Jim Kelly & Mike Stern)

Ed Kopp By

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There's a characteristic East Coast fusion sound — a rugged blend of bop, funk, blues and rock — that reflects the grandeur, grit and bustle of New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Mike Stern is a leading proponent of this brawny urban sound, which is markedly different from the sunny pop-jazz generated by West Coast fusioneers.

Spajazzy is a new fusion outfit heavily influenced by this East Coast sound, and by Stern in particular. Funny thing about Spajazzy, its leaders do not hail from the cold Northeast, or even the United States.

Here's a hint: the name Spajazzy is derived from the word "spaghetti."

Yes, drummer Sergio Bellotti and bassist Tino D'Agostino are natives of Italy, but both attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. These two talented amici are largely unknown in the States, but they deserve to become much better known based on the depth of this debut release. Their dynamic 55-minute CD also features guitar wizard Stern on three tracks, Berklee guitar professor Jim Kelly on four, Greg Burk on piano, Bill Vint on saxophone, and Patric Andren on keyboards.

The latter two musicians also play in the Sean Driscoll Group, a gifted ensemble whose second album Islands I reviewed in August. Spajazzy's debut is equally impressive, though its sound is far more boisterous. Aside from mellow interpretations of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and Bruno Martino's "Estate," this is chunky, angular, guitar-driven fusion that packs a powerful punch.

Stern fans will love this CD. Bellotti is a powerhouse drummer in the Dennis Chambers-Peter Erskine mold, while D'Agostino's work on electric bass seems influenced by Jaco Pastorius. The latter is a respected full-time jazz teacher, while Bellotti taught at Berklee even before he graduated. Vint also impresses with sax chops that compare favorably to East Coast blowers Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.

The three tracks with Stern are as good as anything he's done on his own releases. D'Agostino's "Son Finite Le Vergini" is a complex exercise in funky bop. Kelly's "Mr. Stern" is a funky-bluesy number that features a scintilating Stern solo. Vint's "Better Left Unsaid" is a majestic anthem that gathers steam as it progresses and showcases the saxophonist's clever blowing and Stern's sinewy guitar.

The other four tracks are equally engaging. "Estate" has a samba-like vibe, while Kelly's "Blue Caboose" is a loose blues jam featuring hot solos by every player. Bellotti's turn on the drum set is particularly explosive. "Six For Costas" has Vint establishing the melodic theme, Kelly delivering a fiery solo, and D'Agostino and Bellotti building the foundation with some elaborate polyrhythms. D'Agostino shows his lyrical side on "Someday My Prince Will Come," while Bellotti decorously dusts his skins.

After they hear Spajazzy, fusion fans will be shouting "Bravo!" and "Encore!" The CD can be ordered for $10 through the Spajazzy Web site , or by phoning 1-800-711-3627.

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