Ben Rosenblum’s “Kites and Strings”

cover

KITES AND STRINGS / ROSENBLUM: Cedar Place.* Kites and Strings.+ Halfway to Wonderland. Motif from Brahms (Op. 98).* Fight or Flight.* Bright Above Us.+ Laughing on the Inside. BERNSTEIN: Somewhere.* YOUNG: Philadelphia. TRAD. BULGARIAN: Izpoved / Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project: Rosenblum, pno/*acc; Wayne Tucker, tpt; Jasper Dutz, t-sax/bs-cl; Rafael Rosa, gt; Marty Jaffe, bs; Ben Zweig, dm/perc/cond; *Jeremy Corren, pno; +Jake Chapman, vib; *Sam Chess, tb / One Trick Dog Records, no number

When I see an album cover that looks like this and has a title like this, the first thing that comes into my mind is, “Another goopy album of soft Millennial ‘jazz,’” but such is not the case here. Ben Rosenblum’s little band swings nicely, if not with any particular style; they change meter here and there with impunity, and the solos are solid and often interesting, particularly those of trumpeter Wayne Tucker, who plays with a crisp, firm and rich tone, much like the late Fats Navarro (I wonder if Fats was one of his models).

Which is not to say that the other soloists aren’t good. Jasper Dutz is a fine tenor saxist with, again, an old-fashioned kind of tone, rich and fat, a little like Coleman Hawkins in his bebop days, and the rhythm section is really tight, which I love. Ironically, and I say this with all due respect, Rosenblum is by far the least interesting or original soloist on his own record. I mean, he’s OK and doesn’t embarrass himself, but as a jazz accordionist he’s not anywhere near George Shearing or Art van Damme, and as a pianist he’s just a bit better than average. He fits into the band pretty well but is not a standout. I’m thinking that this CD is more a showcase for his composing skills than his playing chops, and that’s fine, but the compositions are also just pretty good. I know this sounds like a backhanded compliment, but what can I say? Even Jake Chapman, who guests on vibes on two tracks, is a more interesting soloist than Rosenblum. The only other band I can compare it to is Billy Eckstine’s, about which I recently wrote a profile. Eckstine was a pretty good valve trombonist and sometimes trumpeter though clearly not on the level of the killer musicians he had playing behind him, but at least he was one thing they were not, and that was a highly prized and very popular singer.

Nonetheless, this is a very enjoyable set. Rosenblum’s piece are at least somewhat interesting and not always conventional—listen to Halfway to Wonderland with its unusual form and melodic line—and they bring out the best in his very talented bandmates. Jasper Dutz does some amazing things on bass clarinet here, bringing it so high into its upper range that it sounds like a traditional Bb clarinet in its purity and roundness of tone. I can’t recall any other bass clarinetist having accomplished this.

Rosenblum also worked out a very clever rewriting of the opening of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony in a slow 6/8 beat that also morphs a little as it goes along. On this track, as well as the two others on which Rosenblum plays accordion, the piano soloist is Jeremy Corren. His playing is like the leader’s, professional if not very original or inspiring. The title tune is also very interesting, using a sort of modified Middle Eastern beat, hovering halfway between a Hora and a belly dance, and Tucker is really outstanding here. (I could have lived without the whiny electric guitar, though.) Rosenblum’s arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere is just OK, though I did like the sudden switch to a nice, walking 4 beat for Tucker’s solo. Philadelphia is by far the drippiest tune on the entire album, but Bright Above Us also comes close.

Laughing on the Inside is a wonderful tune which reminded me of the many clever, upbeat pieces that Shorty Rogers wrote and played in the 1950s, and Tucker again shines, as does Dutz on the bass clarinet. (I again skipped through Rosa’s awful-sounding electric guitar solo.) Izpoved, the last piece on the album, is a slow, drippy-sounding Bulgarian tune, a very poor choice for a closer.

Overall, however, there’s some interesting tunes here and a fair assortment of excellent solos. Well worth checking out.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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