04 March 2010

Review: Free At Last

Tobias Gebb & Unit 7
Free At Last

If there is one thing we can learn from drummer Tobias Gebb, it is that the well of bebop is not yet dry. His latest album, Free at Last, features a rotating front line reminiscent of the early-60s Jazz Messengers, while Gebb and his rhythm section have a propulsive swing reminiscent of Miles Davis' mid-50s rhythm section. From the get-go, on an up-tempo tune called Blues for Drazen, Gebb and his band show they mean business. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson packs in a flurry of notes on the first solo, but does not overdo it. Gebb features himself on this tune as well, pulling enough music out of his snare drum alone to make Max Roach or Philly Joe Jones smile.

On Softly As In A Morning Contemplation, Gebb and company offer a fresh reading of the standard, worthy of the altered title. The tune begins on an intriguing minor vamp that flows into the melody. Gebb plays the tune more slowly than just about every other version of it that I've heard, but it works nicely. Tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard plays a slow-burning solo that plays with modes before giving way to Watson, who once again displays ample dexterity on the horn. The solo section is so short, however, that I am left wanting more when the tune is over.

The tile track is offered as a paean to Barack Obama. Gebb writes lush harmonies for his front line on this one, punctuated by periodic obligattos from tenorman Joel Frahm. The tune, a triumphant one at its core, is also a little ambiguous at time, perhaps a reflection of Obama's road to the White House. Regardless of your feelings about Obama, the tune is simply good music.

Gebb won me over completely at the conclusion of his album with his choice to cover the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows, the most underrated gem of their canon. The song, comprised of a drone in C, offers many avenues of interpretation, but Gebb plays it relatively straight (though he does add a sitar to the ensemble), amplifying the undercurrent of swing found on the original. Sitarist Neel Murgai adds wonderful color to the band while not making his addition seem like a gimmick. Frahm's tenor solo is intense without losing control, drawing on Coltrane and Ayler while retaining the swing inherent throughout the album.

If I can borrow an overused phrase from sportswriting, Gebb and his bandmates play in a way that makes me think they are having a lot of fun on the bandstand. A few reviewers have already made a connection between this group and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and for good reason. Aside from the superficial similarities between the two, Gebb reflects Blakey's dictum that jazz is supposed to wash away the dust from everyday life. I walked away with a smile after my first listening of Free At Last, and I can't think of a better compliment to give an album.

Track Listing: Blues For Drazen; My Love; Spitball; You Don't Know What Love Is; Bop Be Dop; Free At Last; Softly As In A Morning Contemplation; Tomorrow Never Knows
Personnel: Tobias Gebb, drums; Bobby Watson,
Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Ron Blake, Joel Frahm, Stacy Dillard, tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Ugonna Okegwo, Neal Miner, acoustic bass; Neel Murgai, sitar; Eldad Zvulun, piano

1 comment:

Ian Tordella said...

Looks like an interesting record; I've always enjoyed Frahm. He's got a great duo CD with Mehldau on Palmetto (I think). Stacy Dillard sounds great as well!