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West Side Stories, Lonnie Plaxico's eleventh recording as a leader, draws from memories of growing up in Chicago and listening to a variety of sounds from the '70sR&B, popular music and smooth jazzas well as his collaboration in the development of advanced M-Base musical concepts in the '80s.
To coin a phrase from none other than the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, Plaxico might just be one the hardest working bassists in the business. He is a player with clear abilities, intensity and keen ideas who has contributed to many recordings, including releases by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Greg Osby and Cassandra Wilson.
The credits for the recording suggest an M-base class reunion. Prominent stars like vocalist Cassandra Wilson and saxophonists Gary Thomas and Steve Coleman bring their progressive skills to the project. Starting with the title track, "West Side Stories, you get a hint of Plaxico's flair for music off the beaten path, complete with turbulent ostinato patterns and killer horn arrangements. Even though the bass is somewhat lost the in mix, the band handles the complex arrangement precisely, thanks to tight writing and performance.
Bringing back the memories of yesteryear, covers include Burt Bacharach's "One Less Bell to Answer (featuring Steve Coleman's alto sax and Cassandra Wilson's smoky vocals) and a jazz radio-friendly version of the '70s rock group Foreigner's hit "I Want To Know What Love Is (featuring Carla Cook on vocals).
Though Plaxico brings the funk on a number of tunes impressively via some serious thumb-slapping on his electric axe, upbeat joints like "Speaking in Tongues Out become exhausting and repetitious. Yet the slower tunes, "I Want It to Be and the smooth "Your Love Speaks to Me, both sung by Wilson, linger all the more in this somewhat mixed bag of new and old grooves by a clearly talented bassist.
Track Listing: West Side Stories;
Climb Every Mountian;
I Want It To Be;
One Less Bell To Answer;
I Want To Know What Love Is;
Duke It Out;
Speaking In Tongues;
Your Love Speaks To Me.
Personnel: Lonnie Plaxico: all basses, keyboard (3);
Cassandra Wilson:vocals (3,5,8,11);
Carla Cook: vocals (7);
Gary Thomas: tenor sax (1,2,4,6,7,9,10);
Ravi Coltrane: alto sax (6);
Steve Coleman: alto sax (5,8);
Gary Pikard: tenor sax (8);
David Lee Jones: alto sax (11);
Alex Norris: trumpet (1,2,4,6,7,9,10);
Jeff Hermason: trumpet (8);
Kenny Growhowski: drums;
Jeff Haynes:percussion (3,8,11);
Khalil Kwame Bell:percussion (6,7,11);
George Colligan:B3 organ, piano, Fender Rhodes.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.