There's an understated intricacy at work here that is a pleasure to behold. A tension-release dynamic allows and insists the musicians work together to make the changes in the compositions, then play freely in turn. Each member of the ensemble shines in his own way. For his part, Zenón dominates only because he takes the responsibility of setting the tone on a given piece more often than not. He in no way hogs center stage, however, ultimately making for a democratic project the likes of which usually doesn't work so deftly.
SF Jazz Collective
The Elastic Band lives up to the flexibility implied in its name by accommodating outside musicians in addition to the core trio of Joshua Redman, Sam Yahel and Jeff Ballard. A robust 'you-are-there' soundmix accentuates the sense of musicians improvising right on the spot, rhythm a primary component of their approach, but never at the expense of melody. SF Jazz Collective makes for a study in contrast in its pure acoustic texture if nothing else; as with Momentum, the production is above reproach and as this more formal unit concentrates on composition and arrangement as an impetus to improvisation, its neo-classical motifs giving way to spirited jamming as infectious in its own way as Redman's more groove-oriented group. That's little surprise, though, since you can tell how much all these musicians love to play and how much inspiration they derive from their leader.
The alternating shine and sparkle of Ernest Ranglin's rhythm and lead electric guitar stand out in sharp relief against the dusky reggae rhythms on Surfin'. The inclusion of extra percussion and horns broadens the sonic palette throughout the album, the artistic use of which should not surprise anyone who knows Ranglin was a veteran of Jamaican recording when Bob Marley himself first began recording. The final cut is over-produced and the sole vocal overstates what the rest of this CD implies: this CD is a great soundtrack for a summer party.
James Blood Ulmer
With his gnarled voice and dry acoustic guitar, Ulmer brings the listener to the dark side of the blues, albeit in a fascinating way because he sounds like he's mesmerized by the very music he's making. While the instrumentals are spontaneous to a fault, Birthright is otherwise a textbook example of how the communication of deep passion by an individual can become universal expression. That dynamic, combined with the simplicity at work here overseen by producer Vernon Reid, are the cornerstones of the blues.
The Campbell Brothers
Can You Feel It?
Producer John Medeski forgoes the spotlight by keeping his soulful organ in the background here as he aids these pioneers of sacred steel music (Robert Randolph is their protégé). The guitar interplay between the siblings Chuck, Darick and Phil is no less startling whether they work on a traditional or a blues (!?). Denise Brown's vocals conjure up the atmosphere of the church while maintaining the intensity level, a conribution particularly crucial on the quiet cuts, where the passion is no less in evidence and the rhythm section acquits itself even more authoritatively, than on the up-tempo tracks.
London Flat, London Sharp
The venerable pianist/composer and his quartet jump right into action, moving with insistent motion and maintaining a brisk pace much of the way through this CD. The musicians shifting strides indiscernibly through sax flute and bowed bass solos in just under an hour of straight-ahead jazz capped with the quiet rumination of Brubeck solo that reaffirms, if all preceded it did not, this icon of jazz hasn't lost a whit of commitment, enthusiasm or imagination.