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There are more than a few welcome surprises on The Growl. Where one would expect jazz-inflected variations on Jewish sounds, the result is bigger and grander than that. This quintet brings something unexpected to every track, playing blues, funk and even mellower styles.
The nine-minute opening title track begins with what at first seems an incoherent blend of sounds, but it soon evolves into a Middle Eastern-inspired groove that showcases saxophonist Marc Mommaas and trumpeter Matt Shulman, who explores the upper register of his instrument as much as the melody allows.
"Romanseiro (River of Tears) begins with a soft piano, but then the rhythm evolves into an Eastern European-meets-regional Italian feel. "Pseifas, initially a feature for bassist Matt Pavolka, is a straight, Brubeck-esque tune, evidence that the musicians spent a lot of time listening to the veteran pianist's band during its years with Paul Desmond.
The only unsuccessful track is "Hasidic Monk, which relies too much on Israeli-inspired sounds without enough space to expand within its format. The listener can feel the album's contrast in moments such as "Loa'Madon, which begins with a swinging bass line that is later expanded to the whole group.
The quintet has compelling chemistry in abundance, a fact that's clear on one of the album's best moments, the bluesy "Sh'Ag, on which leader Alon Nechushtan switches to B-3 and directs the group in a call-and-response segment, then moves them into a free-form section. This kind of fluidity cannot be accomplished unless solid relationships are encouraged and formed between musicians.
Track Listing: Unwrapped/The Growl/Spielman Dreams/Storm Among the Pines; Romanseiro (River of Tears); Hasidic Monk; Pseifas; Me'agel; Loa'madon; Sh'ag; Tikkun Olam (Ladder to the Rainbow); Tzahor; Shoham.
Personnel: Alon Nechushtan: keys; Marc Mommaas: saxophones; Matt Shulman: trumpet; Matt Pavolka: bass; Jordan Perlson: drums.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.