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While still a very young man Sean Dobbins established himself as one of the top drummers in our area, working hard with both local and visiting musicians. Now, a young father of three, he has finally released an album as a leader, with a wonderful group that he calls "The Modern Jazz Messengers," and so it is hardly surprising that Blue Horizons (firstname.lastname@example.org) is "dedicated to the great Art Blakey."
In his early years Dobbins paraded his love of Buhaina's style, including those characteristic drum rolls that we all associate with Blakey's playing. But that was just the beginning, and now that he has matured and assimilated his musical influences in an organic manner, it is not technique and mannerisms that remain, but rather concept and spirit. Dobbins no longer sounds like his idol, but he drives his own band in a manner reminiscent of the master, pushing everyone in an almost ecstatic manner.
The compositions, with two exceptions, are by Blakey band members, and many were part of the repertoire of the old Messengers, so the danger, on first glance, is that this could be another anonymous, dull tribute, and there are already too many of those. Dobbins knows better: the arrangements are new and often differ markedly from the originals, and the instrumentation, with a front line consisting of alto saxophone and vibraphone/marimba, resembles nothing that we know from Blakey's extensive discography with the Messengers.
Dobbins has assembled some of the best musicians in the area for his group: Dean Moore (alto saxophone), Robert Pipho (vibraphone/marimba), Steve Richko (piano), and Marion Hayden (bass); all of them have played together for years in various combinations and have been performing in this group for over a year. As a result, there is coherence in the playing that gives the music much of its power. The three main soloists Moore, Richko, and Pipho share a love of melody and avoid standard phrases, but, above all, the whole recital has an irresistible rhythmic exaltation that pays spiritual tribute to Blakey without pandering or imitation. You can very well imagine his big smile as he listens to this smoldering band.
Dobbins also appears on Cliff Monear's ...at the end of the day (Green Tea Jazz) in a very different context. As the title specifies, this relaxed, old-fashioned, high-caliber background music from a time when one could have a nice after-work gin martini without chocolate or ear-threatening thumping masquerading as music. With an accomplished cast and discreet synthesized background this recording does just what it is designed to do with perfection. The musicians are well matched to the project of well-chosen standards: pianist, singer and arranger Cliff Monear is joined by Chris Collins (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Nick Calandro (bass), Sean Dobbins (drums), Larry Fratangelo (percussion), as well as by vocalists Barbara Ware and Stephenie Monear.
This is the kind of recording that is designed to be a complete package that creates and maintains a mood, but if you listen closely, there are also some outstanding musical moments, mainly provided by Monear and Collins. For romance or solitary relaxation, this album has everything you need, but you will have to supply the fireplace and the dog.
Ann Arbor is one of the few small towns in America fortunate enough to have had a real jazz club or two for decades. The Firefly Club, now in its second location, is one of the city's treasures, with an uncompromising seven-day a week schedule of regular groups as well as visiting players from all over the world (this month it will host, among others, the Marcin Wasilewski trio from Poland). Owner, manager, master of ceremonies, and singer Susan Chastain continues to hold on in an economic and artistic environment in which many have given up and her club is not just a music venue, but a place in which music is nurtured, developed, and preserved. Local musicians appreciate her love and devotion, and so they have banded together to produce a tribute and benefit for the club in the form of a compilation album A Week in the Life of the Firefly Club (PKO 47), which features the seven regular jazz groups that play Sunday through Friday at the club.
This is a real sound portrait: these are not rejects from other sessions but recordings made during a specific week last November at the Firefly. The music runs the gamut from Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings, dedicated to preserving the music of the twenties and thirties, and The Easy Street Jazz Band that plays traditional and Dixieland jazz, to Tad Weed's Freedom Ensemble that is dedicated to creating the art of the future. It features two big bands: a nineteen year old ensemble consisting of some of the region's finest established musicians (The Paul Keller Orchestra), and a brand new one, consisting of rising players, many of whom were not born when Keller started his band (The Cool Moose Orchestra). Modern small group jazz is represented by the Paul Keller Ensemble, and Latin sounds by Los Gatos. The whole lineup adds up to over fifty musicians from more than three generations, all in one short week!
Susan Chastain, following in the footsteps of Ron Brooks, sustains a musical venue that supports an unusual range of styles and covers the whole history of jazz. Indeed, it would be hard to find another club anywhere that features, on a regular basis, two traditional jazz groups, a Latin combo, not one, but two big bands, and an avant-garde quartet! This CD is a gesture of love and gratitude from the musicians who play at the place, and all the proceeds go to Firefly. You are therefore urged to purchase your own copy, but this would hardly be altruistic, as all the music on this album is superb.
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