Thursday, June 1, 2017
Greg Skaff's Soulmation on CD
This one stuck out like a sore thumb from the others. Why? Because it rocks.
I have a total of 26 CDs to review right now, and almost all of them are contemporary jazz releases. I'm very thankful to have so much new music at my disposal, but I can also do the math and figure out that if I knocked out a review per day, I might catch up in a month. But I can't review like that. I need time for the music to sink in, and for me to think about what it's trying to say and do. A few years when I reviewed the second Fleet Foxes album, I mentioned the fact that most music reviewers are sent albums and are then told to try to get it done before the release date so that it can be timely and relevant and, most importantly, generate web traffic.
As a result, many of the reviews that you read are based solely upon hurried first impressions. If you asked the reviewer one month later to re-write the review...well, of course you'd get something totally different. That's how music works--good music, at least. It evolves. It reveals hidden layers. You can't quite get that when you have a deadline. So instead of simply reviewing the next CD in the ever-growing pile, I'm going to start something new. I'm going to wait for releases to jump out and bite me. Then I'm going to talk about them.
Greg Skaff's new album jumped out and bit me because it's not quite jazz. This New York guitarist has released twelve new tracks that occupy that hot, dry and hazy space between the instrumental rock of Bill Frisell and the loose, broadly defined intersection of soul, jazz and funk. Individual tracks do slide in and out of genres--original songs such as "Porcupine Hat" are very much in the be-bop tradition, while others such as a soft cover of Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine" are dreamy and seductive and lush. But it's clear that Skaff is most comfortable when he's rocking, when he's laying down meaty riffs while backed by a solid landscape of drums (Jonathan Barber and Charley Drayton), electric bass (Fima Ephron) and especially a beautiful Hammond organ played by Pat Bianchi.
In fact, Bianchi only plays on three tunes--"Conjure," "Genmaichia" and the title track--but that presence sets the tone for the entire album. Bianchi and Skaff create an old-school excitement between the two of them that echoes Martin, Medeski & Wood at their best. That's sort of the point with an album like this--it's got the energy of more traditional rock bands but with the studied intricacy of a great jazz ensemble. It's about the way the musicians feed off each other beyond the metrics of the rhythm section. It's a hard trick to pull off, but Skaff and his mates do it, and they do it well.