MOOD WALK / RANDOLPH: On the Upside. Unaware.4 T Bone Slide.1,2 Strange Game.3 Mood Walk. Knowing.2 Mr. Now.2 Todd’s Idea.1 Nouveau Monde.1,2 Meadows (Os Prados). Funky N. O. Thing1,3 / Erik Jekabson, tpt/fl-hn; Sheldon Brown, t-sax/fl; Dan Zemelman, pno; Fred Randolph, bs; Greg Wyser-Pratte, dm; 1Greg Sankovich, kbds/org; 2Silvestre Martinez, perc; 3Brian Rice, perc; 4Dillon Vado, vib / digitally available at Amazon, iTunes etc.
Fred Randolph is my kind of musician. He started playing the ukulele while a child in Honolulu, switched to rock guitar when he was infatuated by Jimi Hendrix, then went to college in California where he switched to jazz guitar. Still not satisfied, he switched to the tenor sax once he heard John Coltrane, and then later taught himself how to play the bass. After receiving an M.A. on the bass, he led a jazz group called The Zone for several years, and has even studied classical music.
So here he is on his fourth CD as a leader, and in a sense the album is mistitled. When you see an album called Mood Walk, you generally think of soft jazz, something relaxed and, well, moody. But Mood Walk is anything but soft and relaxed; it is good, energetic mainstream jazz, played by a crisp little quintet with a few visitors on various tracks. All of his sidemen are real swingers, with tenor saxist Sheldon Brown showing a tubular sound on his instrument and playing licks reminiscent of some of the great tenor players of the late 1950s. And boy, can Randolph play the bass! He is as fluent on the instrument as anyone I’ve ever heard, and that includes Ray Brown, Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus and Eddie Gomez (although I only heard Gomez in person), bursting with ideas and providing a propulsive beat when he isn’t soloing.
Unaware is a medium-slow piece, almost-a-ballad, and on this track Brown plays flute and Erik Jekabson switches from trumpet to flugelhorn to produce a nice West Coast Jazz sort of sound. The melody is somewhat elusive, but the fine solos make up for this. There’s a sort of Chico Hamilton Quintet vibe about this track that I really liked. To complete the West Coast sound, Dillon Vado sits in on vibes, but for me the main attraction of this track was Randolph’s bass solo.
I really enjoyed T Bone Slide, with its funky backbeats and slight Latin allusions. The band plays really hard on this one, with a particularly swinging second chorus played by the trumpet and sax together with Greg Sankovich’s organ in the background. Brown’s hard-driving tenor sax, using some circular chromatics a la Coltrane, is the star of this show, although when Sankovich switches to electric piano for his solo he’s also very good. Randolph’s own solo is played very high up in the bass range. Strange Game is a ballad, with Brown again on flute.
The title track, Mood Walk, refers more to the “walking” or shuffling beat than to anything mood-related. This is yet another uptempo swinger, and I really admired the way Jekabson and Brown interact together to simulate an entire brass section. The solos really cook on this one as well. Both horns solo very well and band pianist Dan Zemelman finally gets a solo of his own, too. Randolph’s solo is predictably good as well, but he doesn’t steal the thunder from his bandmates. Knowing, which features Silvestre Martinez as guest percussionist, is a nice little medium-slow piece with a quasi-Latin beat. Brown’s bristling tenor solo is the star of this track.
Mr. Now is fully Latin jazz, with a Tito Puente sort of kick in the opening theme, although the middle eight is in a straight four. Martinez is back on percussion here, and the solos really cook. Todd’s Idea is another ballad, but the album wakes up again when we reach Nouveau Monde, on which Randolph switches to electric bass and the percussion really kicks butt.
The album wraps up with Funky N.O. Thing, a piece that starts out with an excellent solo bass intro by the leader before the band rolls in, giving us a sort of Dirty Dozen/Dr. John kind of beat. Zemelman sparkles on the piano fills, the horns really cook, Jekabson’s trumpet solo is a killer, and the rhythm section drives it forward to its conclusion.
This is a really excellent album of jazz, covering a few different styles and genres but all of it tastefully done and with excellent solos throughout.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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