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Johnnie Valentino: Stingy Brim

Budd Kopman By

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Omnitone strikes again with Stingy Brim, a release that is billed as commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the death of the tuba as the bass line instrument, when it was replaced by the string bass. This album is very cool, hip, funny and just unpredictable enough to keep you glued to your chair, unless, that is, you are dancing to the various rhythms that Mark Ferber lays down.

The music here is not a re-creation of the New Orleans sound or even a modern update of that sound, but rather an evocation of the feel of that music's rhythm given a hard left inside-out turn. It's an interesting comparison with Lucian Ban's very fine tuba-related release, The Tuba Project (CIMP, 2006), which, though also not literal, is much more traditional overall.

A tuba-organ quintet is certainly unorthodox. Randy Jones' tuba is in the middle of things supplementing the bass, but also adding counterpoint while Mick Rossi's very, very deep organ grooves (with left-hand, not foot, bass lines) drive the music, aided by Ferber's outstanding drumming. Bob Shepard's clarinet has a feel of the old-time sound a lot of the time, but his tenor sax doesn't. Finally, Johnny Valentino's quirky guitar lines, usually with the FX of a detuning on a Lexicon H3000, fly over and around everything.

The opening title tune is a microcosm of the record. Starting with what sounds like a real New Orleans rhythm on drums, it mutates quickly to an old organ riff and then a straight, deep walking bass organ accompaniment to Valentino's guitar. The opening riff also infuses the rest of the record in many unexpected ways, tying the wide-ranging tracks together.

From there Valentino moves to "Dog Eggs," which sounds very old and new simultaneously; the tuba actually plays the bass line, with Rossi adding an eerie harmonium. Jones plays a solo that breaks from any tradition, and Sheppard pulls off a clarinet solo that also manages to fuse the feel of the new and the old.

Rossi collaborated with Valentino on "Return" and "Off Balance," and anyone familiar with his other work will recognize his eclecticism and why he and Valentino the soundshaper get along so well musically. As the two pieces explore many different sounds and their combinations, Jones is given a chance to really show what the tuba can do.

The music of "Stone Balloons" somehow very clearly evokes an image of the title—which is a strange thing itself—and Sheppard lets loose on clarinet, with low harmonium notes supporting mutated guitar sounds. And if you like Dire Straits, give a listen to "Where When & How" for a jazzy version of their deep sound.

Valentino is that engaging musician whose deep, humorous and exploratory sides create challenging but accessible music, brought to life here by a top-notch band. A total winner from any angle, even from under a stingy brim.

Track Listing: Stingy Brim; Dog Eggs; Oyster Bay; 4AM; Return; Stone Balloons; Where When & How; Coyote Cowboy; Off Balance; All Monk's Children.

Personnel: Johnnie Valentino: guitar, mandolin; Mick Rossi: Hammond B3 organ, harmonium, percussion; Mark Ferber: drums, percussion; Bob Sheppard: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Randy Jones: tuba.

Title: Stingy Brim | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: OmniTone

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