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Monday, December 6, 2010

From Avant-Garde and "Straight Ahead to 'Moonlighting" and Dubwise

This go-round, we have a mix of American and Jamaican releases, include the headline debut from longtime, part-time performer (when he's not helping entrepreneurs) Harold Davis (above), and a longstanding and still exciting release from guitar whiz Robert 'Dubwise' Browne (left). We also have the aptly named "Straight Ahead" (though not in the least predictable) from horn virtuoso and journeyman player Mac Gollehon and the latest from avant-pianist Bob Gluck.

 Pianist Bob Gluck has assembled a strong trio (Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass and Joe Giardullo on soprano sax) for this, a gently insistent and compelling collection  for which the term "rewards repeated listenings" is definitely apt.  The sound is potent yet expansive and open-ended. Beginning with the crystalline cascade of "Waterways" the listening experience is quite broad. On song after song, notably the by turns haunting and uplifting "October Song" Gluck & Co. keep the listener delightfully off-balance; tinkling sequences give way to percussive piano runs, with the plaintive wail of the soprano both counterpoint and accompaniment. This is music for those who want a little more - heck a lot more  - than the comfort of familiar melodies and chord changes. Gluck recognizes that dissonance - applied judiciously - can result in an illuminating musical experience, given the presence of excellent and committed players.

While the vagaries of the music business may see him doing duty in the service of globe-trotting artists like Shaggy, Robert 'Dubwise' Browne is actually a blazingly talented guitarist in the mode of a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai - except of course, for the fact that he has a far greater sensibility for reggae (and its pesky but resilient offshoot, dancehall) than either of those two gents.
Indeed, his Birth CD, first release several years ago, remains - despite its reliance on programmed background tracks - a visionary work in its ability to restore the longstanding instrumental credibility that reggae established in the heyday of dub, but sound contemporary at the same time. Indeed, his virtuosity was sufficient to draw the master himself, Ernie Ranglin, into a duet on the Marley classic, "Sun Is Shining". But there's more to this startlingly original collection than old hands and cover songs. On Birth, we get to hear the beginnings of a truly remarkable sonic vision, one that deserves to escape the confines of current conventions in the homeland to find more receptive ears around the globe.

With a resume that encompasses Madonna and Chaka Khan as well as Lester Bowie, multi-hornist (pardon the coinage) Mac Gollehon gives new meaning to the term journeyman.

His latest both typifies and departs from the premise of its title, with the opening track, Roy Eldridge's "Fish Market" hewing to the former, while the leader's original "Mac straight Ahead"  throws in a funky organ treatment to complement the stratospheric 'Maynard Ferguson-type' flights.

Indeed, the overall mood is propulsive; his "Lush Life" has a bit more forward momentum than some renditions, and Gollehon's trumpet work, along with some stellar solo runs, make for an intriguing listen. Of course, the support cast is more than up to the task. Baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber delivers a strong performance. The soloists on this one could easily be walking the bar as they deliver their spirited lines. Gollehon and company further crank things up on "Strange Behavior,"  and practically nuke a reading of "After You've Gone." They only catch their collective breath a bit at the end, with a soulful take on the Mingus dirge, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Gollehon's trombone and Cuber's baritone smoldering. Gollehon has certainly been around, but on this excellent release, he shows that he knows how to take it home.

Though a journeyman in his own right, you'll find no signs of wear in vocalist-keyboardist Harold Davis. Its one thing to be trained as a musician, and even to play music on a regular basis; its another thing entirely to bring a seemingly boundless and contagious joie de vivre to one's work -a spirit that says "hey I love this stuff!"

Of course, Davis is far from among strangers on this outing. The consistently excellent drummer Andrew "Pregs" Thompson shares both playing and producing duties on this disc and the rest of the personnel is drawn from what may be referred to as "the usual suspects" in Jamaican live music: Dale Brown on bass (with Davis doubling on a few tracks), Steve Golding and Winston 'Bo Pee" Powell guitars; and on saxophone (various tracks) Tony Green and Warren Harris. The latter player in particular enlivens all of the tracks he's on, especially the live-recorded closer - a combination of Sting's 'Englishman in New York" and the Shinehead adaptation "Jamaican in New York."

Davis' own keyboard work sparkles throughout, but vocally, the album is best served when he collaborates with others, including DJ Royale on "Sunshine" (from Bill wither's "Ain't NoSunshine") and with Third World vet on the much-travelled Randy Newman gem "Baltimore."

Well-known though he may be on the cabaret scene, the smartly conceived and joyfully executed Harold Arthur should serve as a neat recorded introduction to his manifold musical talents.

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