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Rocketled by writer and keyboardist Emanuel Rufflerrefers to the music on its debut, Tipp-Topp, as Disco Jazz. Lest such a description have too many people running for the hills to escape visions of big hair and bigger flares, it needs stating up front that the epithet fits in a good way. Disco was about having fun, creating danceable grooves that would fill a dance floor time and time again. That's what Rocket does with pretty much everything on this album.
Ruffler won the 1998 Thelonious Monk Composers Competition and has worked as a sideman or writer with singer-songwriter, bassist and vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello and drummer Joe Chambers, among others. Ruffler's first album as a leader, Nightflight (Pursuance Records, 2009), was similarly upbeat, but there's an increased confidence about the playing and writing on this album, a definite step up which fulfills the promise of that debut.
Apart from Ruffler, the only ever-present player is percussionist Jaz Sawyer, whose rhythmically strong playing is enhanced by some inventive touches. A series of guests join Ruffler and Sawyer across the album, ensuring variation in sound and mood. Trumpeters Duane Eubanks and Vitaly Golovnev, and flautist Michel Gentile, who all joined Ruffler on Nightflight, are present on this album as well. Eubanks is an especially emphatic presence, notable for his intense upper register playing on "In Miraculous Ways" and his jauntier, warmer, tone on "Panda."
"Architectonics," a Ruffler solo performance, is a short amalgam of electronics and found sounds. It flows neatly into "Bahia," an irresistibly cheerful groove that combines the talents of Gentile, Golovnev, and bass clarinetist Sam Sadigursky over a funky rhythm section featuring bassist Patrice Blanchard. Gentile adds a softer, more romantic sound to "Green Waterfalls." Ruffler clearly has a fondness for reggae, most obvious on the catchy "Little Reggae" but also apparent in the rhythms and percussion on the title track.
With a name that bears a close resemblance to a major Herbie Hancock hit and led by a keyboard player with a penchant for electronics, this band could be setting itself up for a fall. Rocket avoids the danger by virtue of sharp and fun tunes in addition to skilled and enthusiastic playing. Tipp-Topp is what it says it is.
Tipp-Topp; Panda; Miss Universe Japan; Green Waterfalls; I Enjoy Being A Star; Little
Reggae; Architectonics; Bahia; Race Car '63; In Miraculous Ways.