Have you ever had a CD get stuck in your player? Not physically, but because it is so darn good you need to hear it over and over again? That’s what happened when I popped the new recording from Acme Jazz Garage into the player. I’ve seen these guys in different settings, from purely straight ahead to all-out funk, but I simply wasn’t prepared for a disk this superb, start to finish.
They come out swinging straight out of the starting gate with “Mongo Strut,” a reworking of a tune by bassist Philip Booth. This jazz/funk outing features guest percussionist Gumbo Ortiz, long a Bay area star and Al di Meola bandmate. Bryan Lewis gives his clavinet a workout, and Ortiz and drummer Tim Diehl are in perfect sync, powered by Booth’s electric bass.
The next track, “Resonance,” still blows me away, and that’s after more than a dozen times through the disk. Composer Lewis opens with electric piano, and then Matt Swenson gets to work. His playing throughout the disk is nothing short of spectacular. This tunes goes through a variety of changes, and he nails every one. Booth and Diehl are a monster rhythm section. Lewis takes a great solo as well.
“Sandprints” is Booth’s homage to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” magnificently rendered with Jeremy Powell on soprano saxophone. Powell is another Tampa Bay area jewel who moved to New York. (Jeremy and NYC trumpeter brother Jonathan played with Booth in Ghetto Love Sugar). Rick Runion, a fine tenor player from Lakeland, plays harmony with Jeremy here. The track begins with Booth’s beautiful double bass tones, then Jeremy and the band join in.
Booth adds a vocal tune to the mix with “Last Call,” his impressions of New York City during his time there and historically as well. Whitney James is the singer here, and her voice perfectly accents Booth’s lyrics. The tune also features vibraphonist Sam Koppelman, a truly impressive player whose contributions here and on “Zag” are first-rate. Ron Wilder plays trumpet… and he was Booth’s jazz instructor back in the day!
“Acmefied” opens with a nifty drum roll into the tune, another fine funky jazz piece. Swenson again channels the masters beautifully, and Diehl’s work on the kit is of special note. Lewis comps underneath with great electric piano.
“Zag” is a gorgeous tune Booth used to play with Trio Vibe. Koppelman is perfect here, and Austin Vickrey and Runion join in on tenors, with a solo from Vickery. This song swings so hard, driven by Booth on bass. Beautiful acoustic piano from Lewis adds to the sheer delight of this track.
Booth next honors George Porter, Jr., the king of New Orleans bass players and member of the legendary Meters, with “Mr. G.P.” (reference Coltrane’s tune “Mr. P.C.”). If you’re going to do NOLA, you’re gonna need a horn section: Wilder, Runion, and Vickery (this time on baritone sax). Swenson takes another blistering guitar turn while Booth and Diehl channel that second-line rhythm.
Badass bass launches “Rubberman,” the oldest tune in Acme Jazz Garage’s repertoire. Vickery plays gorgeous flute here with Runion on tenor. Lewis stands out on Hammond B3 organ, funk dripping from every note. Diehl nails this one, and Swenson delivers a beautiful solo invoking so many great jazz guitarists. Booth gets an extended feature as well.
Lewis arranged a very bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” which was released in time for Independence Day. His gospel-tinged Hammond B3 provides a very different reading of this, reminiscent perhaps of Ray Charles.
The disk closes with a percussion workout with Diehl and Ortiz, “Mongo Jam,” a logical extension of the opening tune.
This wonderful recording on the Solar Grooves label was enhanced by the remarkable production job done at the Springs Theatre, where local Tampa musicians have been producing music of the highest quality.
PHILIP BOOTH: Fender Precision fretted and (Tony Franklin) fretted bass, upright
TIM DIEHL: drums, gong
BRYAN LEWIS: piano, Hammond B3 organ, Fender Rhodes piano, keyboards
MATT SWENSON: guitars
Upcoming dates include the Gasparilla Music Festival (March 6) and WMNF’s Tropical Heatwave (April 30).
More information is available on the Acme Jazz Garage official website.
You can find the album on cdbaby here.