Growing up in the 1970s, I was a rabid fan of the aggressive and adventurous sounds of jazz-rock, later re-branded as "jazz fusion." I slowly lost interest as the style became mired in a sticky sea of overproduced pop moves and smooth sentiment, but held out hope for some sort of renaissance. The jam-band fad of the early 90s, the yeoman work of highly individualistic, often avant-leaning artists such as Ronald Shannon Jackson
, Dr. Nerve
, Terje Rypdal
, and a host of musicians from Europe gave fusion a shot in the arm as the 20th Century closed. An extensive reissue campaign brought about a reconsideration of Miles Davis
' pioneering work in the genre, and suddenly the jazz landscape was populated with a new generation of innovative electric and eclectic jazz-rockers such as Snarky Puppy
, and Critters Buggin'
to name just a few.
I mention all of this because there are still only a few musicians doing all-original "old school" high energy jazz-rock fusion. Bassist and composer Richie Goods
is one of these brave souls. His latest album, Three Rivers
with a superb band he's dubbed Nuclear Fusion in towis a generous slab of in-your-face funky jazz-rock that takes you back to the mid-1970s in the best possible way. The title track is a great example. It's got a tricky odd time signature, crunchy rock drumming, weird keyboard sounds, a throbbing bass line, and a stinging, fuzzed-out guitar solo.
Goods does more than write the tunes and maintain a funky bottom end. He plays a lot of finger-popping, thumb-slapping lead bass in the style of Stanley Clarke
and Gerald Veasley
and his solos are consistently engaging and interesting. Not one to leave any stylistic stone unturned, Three Rivers
also features four brief pieces featuring Goods' acoustic bass work. One of these is a lovely cover version of John Lennon
's "Imagine." His band is sharp and on-the-money. Guitarist Ben Butler
and keyboardist Andy Ezrin
, both previously unknown to me, have chops to burn and a firm grasp of the demands of Goods' eclectic jazz-rock-funk style. I last heard drumming dynamo Billy Kilson
in Tim Hagans
' Animation Imagination and David Holland
's quintet. Since then, he's been leading his own group, BK Groove
, and working with Robin Eubanks
, Chris Botti
, and Paula Cole
Botti guests on one track here, "Four Kings," a funky slow-burn that suits his Miles Davis-influenced trumpet style quite nicely. "Mudd Funk" more than lives up to its name, with Goods' lead bass sharing the melody with organist Sheldrick Mitchell
as the famed hip-hop drummer (and occasional Snarky Puppy member) Lil' John Roberts
provides a strutting backbeat. R&B influences crop up on the tracks featuring vocalists Sy Smith
and Shayna Steele
. "Sightless Bird," and "Hope She'll Be Happier" are tender ballads. Both have that Gospel touch, yet the performances of Smith and Steele are refreshingly restrained and soulful. "Epic" couldn't be more different; a heavy, complex jazz-rock piece featuring Kilson's crackling drums and Andy Ezrin's mellow Rhodes, Carolyn Leonhart
's wordless vocal is used as a melodic lead in unison with Goods' bass. The band's version of "Shout" by Tears for Fears
is completely off the wall. Played as a samba in double time, the band takes the piece into some completely unexpected places.
Soul Glow; Three Rivers; Cosmic Beauty; Richman Unplugged #1; Four
Kings; Shout; Sightless Bird; Richman Unplugged #2; Mudd Funk; Hope
She'll Be Happier; Richman Unplugged #3; Epic; Imagine.
Richie Goods: electric bass, fretless bass, acoustic bass,
synthesizer, keyboards; Billy Kilson (1-3, 5-7,10,12), Lil' John
Roberts (9): drums; Ben Butler (1-3, 5-7, 9,10,12), Jeff Lockhart (1),
Leonardo Amuedo (10): guitar; Andy Ezrin: Rhodes, synth ( 1-3, 5-
7,10,12); Sheldrick Mitchell: Hammond B-3 (9-10); Chris Botti: trumpet
(5); Shayna Steele (7), Sy Smith (10), Carolyn Leonhart (12): vocals.