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Ameen Saleem: The Groove Lab

Alex Franquelli By

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Composer Irving Berlin once famously said that "everybody ought to have a Lower East Side in their life." True and, although technically speaking Brooklyn is not part of the octagon that thrives between Houston Street and FRD Drive, the groove, that precious intimate rumble of inspiration, is the one element that connects one area with the other; contemporary music and its multiple historical declinations. While the paradigm differs and keeps on evolving, the end result is invariably of a similar nature, now as it was under the reign of the likes of guitarist Kenny Burrell and trumpeter Lee Morgan.

Ameen Saleem, surely one of the most promising bass players in the world, knows the simple but elusive rules that make up a groove album, and this debut as a bandleader stands out between the crowded ranks of modern jazz. Innovators, conservatives, revolutionaries—all of them are sometimes connected by the one thing that Saleem boldly cites in the title of his album. You might know the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and if you do, you might have noticed the rhythm section, chances are that you have appreciated the great work done by Saleem at the bass.

While The Groove Lab strives to come up with an original and personal sound, the end result is undoubtedly not too far from those atmospheres. Saleem does not try to overdo or take the listener off the beaten path, but while the overall attitude may appear reassuring, the range of influences a good reviewer should duly list is potentially endless. Funk, jazz and soul certainly constitute the three main points of reference, but the many veins that propagate from these often abused genres, are virtually impossible to keep track of. The fact that he is lucky enough to be able to interact with amazing musicians (pianist Cyrus Chestnut, drummer Gregory Hutchinson and the already mentioned Roy Hargrove on trumpet) surely contributes to the variegated array of elements which, at least apparently, should not find space on the same album.

Ameen Saleem manages to find the perfect balance between the idea and the usability—to use an artistically horrible but commercially positive term—of his inspiration. This is music that develops in layers: one enjoys the more superficial ones before venturing into the hidden substrates which keep the album together. For this reason, tracks like "For My Baby," with lyrics dangerously close to banality, flow from jazz to funky so naturally that the very nature of the music remains beautifully ambiguous and enjoyable at the same time.

Flugelhorns, Rhodes and Wurlitzers, tenor saxophones, to name but a few instruments involved, can sometimes pose a threat to coherence, but the rich, colorful texture underlying "Don't Walk Away," "Epiphany" and the beautiful "So Glad" make this debut an interesting and challenging work.

Via Veneto Jazz and Jando Music keep on proposing high quality jazz whose most appreciable virtues lie in the clever administration of novelty and institution, with one goal in mind: accessibility. It is not clear whether or not Irving Berlin would have loved The Groove Lab, but what is certain is that there is a common language that is spoken on this and the other side of the river. Further east, a new star might be rising.

Track Listing: Korinthis; Epiphany; Don’t Walk Away; I.L.Y.T.; Love Don’t; Neo; For My Baby; “A” Theme; Best Kept Secret; Baby It’ll Be Alright; So Glad; Possibilities; For Tamisha.

Personnel: Ameen Saleem: electric bass, double bass; Cyrus Chestnut: piano, rhodes, wurlitzer, organ; Jeremy “Bean” Clemons: drums, percussions; Stacy Dillard: tenor and soprano sax; Ramona Dunlap: vocals; Roy Hargrove: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gregory Hutchinson: drums; Craig Magnano: guitar; Mavis “Swan” Poole -vocals

Title: The Groove Lab | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Via Veneto Jazz

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