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Index of SEMJA reviews


Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Pianist Rick Roe, bassist Paul Keller, and drummer Gerald Cleaver have been on the same bandstand countless times in various combinations, from duets to big bands and all three are versatile musicians who are the accompanists of choice whenever heavyweights come to town. After all these years they have finally teamed up and produced a joint recording that reflects their love of gently swinging modern jazz of the kind one would like to encounter late at night in a neighborhood jazz dive. There is a challenge to this kind of music, which can sound insipid and predictable, too comfortable for words. This trio easily sidesteps this problem: they offer swinging late night jazz without triteness with just a bit of hardness at the tip to give it the proper edge. The program is varied and showcases the musicians well; their work is so tight that one would think that the trio has been touring together for years. The bookends, "Someone's Rocking my Dreamboat" and "Eronel," offer timeless swing at just the proper tempo. In between there are ballads, blues, some nice originals by Keller and Roe, and a spectacular, very slow "My Old Flame" that sheds new light on an old standard. The Late Show is a collaboration between Keller's Bopo Records and Roe's Unknown Records.

Pete Siers loves Latin music and for some time now he has been leading Los Gatos, a group dedicated to preserving and exploring the legacy of Cal Tjader and his cohorts. The group has settled in for a regular weekly gig at Ann Arbor's Bird of Paradise Club and has jelled into a tight unit. The results of all this hard work can be heard on Cats Got Your Tongue? (BOPO LGQ 222). Siers sticks mainly to timbales and is joined by Cary Kocher on vibes, Kurt Krahnke on bass, Brian Di Blassio on piano, and Jonathan Ovalle on congas and miscellaneous percussion. The band was recorded at the Bird and the spirits were high; all the musicians get plenty of space to show their stuff, including bassist Krahnke who struts his stuff on Cal Tjader's "Fuje." The repertoire is vintage Tjader; all of the songs on the album come from his repertoire and the arrangements have been faithfully transcribed from his albums, but the solos are improvised and the performances are loose, idiomatic, and inspired. Kocher has a difficult role to play, as he must emulate Tjader's vibes phrasing but bring something of his own into the mix and this he does with panache, bravado, and style. This is music to dance by, and it certainly makes you shake your hips. The only criticism one might raise concerns the degree of faithfulness to the originals: almost all of these tunes can be found on two Tjader albums and one can only hope that the next Los Gatos disk will contain a few originals as well.

Mike Khoury is well known for his activities in support of improvised music. He has organized concerts at Entropy Studios in Hamtramck and runs the compact disk label. More important, he is also an accomplished violinist who has performed with many local and visiting improvisers. For some time now he has been playing in a co-operative group with saxophonist and clarinetist Jason Shearer and percussionist/pianist Ben Hall. The trio has just released their first CD, Insignia (Public Eyesore 34), with a cameo by Canadian alto saxophonist Maury Coles. All nine tracks were recorded at various public performances in Dearborn, Hamtramck, and Lansing and while the sound quality is not the best, it certainly is good enough for full enjoyment of the music. This is an ensemble and not a collection of players and the accent is on group playing; the unusual instrumentation and the highly intuitive interplay result in an original sound. Shearer has a full and yet ascerbic saxophone sound and excels on the clarinet. Hall can mix it up with power, but knows when to play sparsely and Khoury alternates between melodic single lines and chordal riffs. They listen to each other and know how to move from mood to mood and never stay in one place for too long. The members of the trio clearly take their cues from contemporary European improvisers as well as from classic free jazz of the sixties, but the result is identifiable and original, played with passion and feeling.

Bassist Jason Roebke has been very busy since he left Ann Arbor for Chicago. Some of the recordings he has been on have been noted on these pages, and now we can draw attention to his first solo album, entitled yu-tai-ri-datsu, a collection of eleven numbered pieces for contrabass alone. Roebke is a deliberate player, who takes his time, leaves plenty of space, and uses extended techniques sparingly. He paces the program well, developing his ideas with intelligence as well as passion, and has a broad enough timbral and melodic palate to keep the listener riveted to the speakers. He sets up dramatic moments well and when they come, they are often quite surprising. When you hear such performance you can see what the musician is doing, but on a recording you often have to imagine the techniques used by the bassist. Much of the time Roebke is using traditional plucking and bowing techniques, but sometimes he does things you can only guess at. There have been many solo bass albums of late, but for inventiveness, variety and musical intelligence this one rates up there with the best.

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