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Shapes: The Big Picture

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Big Picture listening experience had me thinking of the different styles of jazz sounds, from the wild and free end of the spectrum to the more structured funk/groove world. This offering, by Shapes—a vehicle for keyboardist/vibraphone man Roger Burn—has a definite Yellowjackets feel. Produced by bassist Jimmy Haslip of that esteemed ensemble, the sound here is groove-oriented, very well-crafted, with polished arrangements of music mapped out down to the lightposts on the street corners, very little left to chance. In all but the very top musicians that navigate this cartography—Yellowjackets, Bob James, Don Grusin, Weather Report, Return to Forever—there can be a feeling of stricture, a sometimes bothersome lack of spontaneity. But with those top level travelers on this route—and Shapes fit in here—the music has a beautifully comfortable sheen and allure.

Put it this way: listening to the free end of sound can be like having a crew of insouciant ragtag carpenters come into your back yard to put up a tree house in the writhing limbs of an old oak, constructing a sprawling asymetrical off-kilter edifice that fits itself into the unpredictable twists and turns of untamed branchings. With The Big Picture, it's more like hiring a team of cabinet makers to come in and refurbish your kitchen, setting in boxes of polished wood with all the angles fitting tight, seamless, everything lined up in a neat geometry.

That said, this two-disc set isn't all groove. Disc one luxuriates there, while disc two (reel one and two, using the "picture" theme) goes into a more mainstream mood, though still in a very precise atmosphere. And while the parallels have been pointed out, the group has a definitely distinct sound, in large part from Tollak Ollestad's chromatic harmonica contibutions as a lead instrument and, more interestingly, a harmonic device, alongside trombone on several cuts. Mike Fahn pushes things to the jazzier side of sound on disc two with his valve bone work on "Softly, as In a Morning Sunrise" and Cole Porter's classic "Love for Sale"; Nick Lane contributes bass and tenor trombone work on Roger Burn's original "Lobster"; while keyboardist Russell Ferrante—one of Burn's heroes—adds a very Yellowjackets tint to six tracks.

An often lush sound—with lots of impeccable synth-aided rhythm textures and some string sweetening, Shapes has risen to the top level of the groove/funk/jazz genre here with The Big Picture.

Visit Shapes on the web at www.shapesmusic.com .


Track Listing: CD1: Arc of Twilight, Naima, The Big Picture, Gabriela, Eat the Heat, Lobster, Measure Once, Sotto Voce. CD2: Softly As in a Morning Sunrise, Love for Sale, In the Outdoors, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Automat, I Still Remember, What Now?

Personnel: Tollak Ollestad--chromatic harmonica, keys, background vocals; roger Burn--keys, vibraphone; Larry Steen, Dean Taba--bass, Jimmy Haslip; various others...

Title: The Big Picture | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Burnin' Down the House Records


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