From nowhere comes the radically creative music of Tomato Box. (Madison Wisconsin, nowhere?) Yes Virginia, Madison Wisconsin is nowhere close to New York geographically (it’s not too long of a drive from Chicago, just pack some coins for the automated toll booths and some Old Style beer). But Wisconsin’s Tomato Box is all over Downtown sonically. Pairing a front line of marimba and saxophone, drummer Michael Brenneis’ compositions are simultaneously poised and free. They rewrite Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” on the track “South Dakota” with the eased introductory lines painting a relaxed vision. Brenneis blurs the space between sticks and hands, locomoting with brushes and soft rolls as saxophonist John Keech explores the lyrics. Things always seem to return to Geoff Brady’s marimba, an instrument not foreign to jazz, just one not featured so prominently. His mallets-to-wood place a strong identifiable stamp on this recording, signaling this new music to be bigger than jazz, or to be more specific, theirs is jazz that includes larger worlds (read non-Western sounds). On “Shake The Apparatus” the band creates a humming backdrop (almost a digeridoo sound) for the percussion discussions of leader Brenneis. They follow that with a sort of Steve Reich tribute on “Pockets Of Distorted Time” with the mechanical beats of a Reichian machine that deconstructs as entropy takes over.
Saxophonist John Keech comes at you from the Davis Murray meets Arthur Blythe bag as the timekeeper, bassist Henry Boehm, rarely plays in straight time. The band favors the free principles of exploration as on “Continuity,” which wanders a bit for ideas before settling into a disheveled groove. But they are also fluent in the post-bop language, flexing their chopped suey on “The Syndicate” and the soul-fueled “Hidden Message In Jazz.”
Tomato Box reminds me of the transitions jazz has made over the years from the New Orleans bands to Satchmo’s solos, from danceable swing to mind walking bebop, from composed pieces to freedom. Each subsequent evolution carries the entirety of the past as prologue to the future. Tomato Box opts not for the cheese of dairyland or Wynton-wannabes but for a unique future. tomatobox.com
Track Listing: Born With Style; The Syndicate; South Dakota; Visions In Chartreuse; Shake The Apparatus; Pockets Of Distorted Time; Continuity; Hidden Messages In Jazz; Empty Pages.
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.