The Graham Album Review #2108
The Andy Rothstein Band: Truth Against the World
(Vermicious Knid Music, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/30/2022)
While the jazz-rock fusion scene had its ascendancy in the 1970s, the genre remains active in various incarnations. Throughout the years, artists who played fusion were in various places along spectrum between jazz and rock. There were the jazz players who had been acoustic and went electric, and rock players who played electric instrumental music with some jazz influence. The latter tended to be guitar players.
This week we have a new recording by a decidedly electric guitarist whose brand of jazz-rock fusion tends toward the rockier side, but with jazzy horns, some funk and a little Latin influence. It’s Andy Rothstein, whose new release is called Truth Against the World.
Brooklyn, New York, native Andy Rothstein started on guitar a little later than many, at age 14, but soon devoted himself to music, graduating from Rutgers University with a dual degree in music and computer science. His teachers at Rutgers include jazz luminaries Kevin Eubanks and the late Ted Dunbar, with some private studies with Steve Khan.
He released his first album under his own name in 2006, but has been a sideman for a member of the bands including Rook and Mary’s Magnet. He has also made something of a career as a musical transcriber, creating the sheet music from recordings by groups like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Def Leppard, which are issued by music publisher Hal Leonard. Rothstein’s last album called Wit of the Staircase was released in 2010, and featured guest appearances by trumpeter Lew Soloff, and former Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena, among others.
Now he is out with Truth Against the World which is the translation of a Welsh phrase he found in an exhibit of a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Arizona. On the new album, he is joined by group that includes keyboard man Demetrios Pappas, bassist Tony Senatore, drummers Tom Cottone and Andrea Valentini, trumpeter Steve Jankowski, with Tom Timko and Ken Gioffre alternating on saxes. Two of the tracks feature the vocals of Audrey Martells.
Rothstein wrote or co-wrote all the material on the album, which as mentioned, runs more toward the rock end of things, though the horns keep a jazz sensibility. Rothstein is a tasteful player, who is quite electric in sound, but he is no shredder. His playing is energetic but without showboating. As far as guitar sound is concerned, Rothstein is something of a hardware guy and has built some of his own effects devices.
Opening the album is a piece that rather epitomizes the sound of the project. Perfect Storm is an upbeat track with tight horn arrangements that shows creative composing as well as providing an opportunity for some soloing by Rothstein as well as keyboard man D Pappas. <<>>
Rothstein often brings in some funk influence on the album. A track called SDPM shows some of that groove, while keeping things upbeat with a strong contributions from the horns. <<>>
A track simply called Blues is just that, a slow blues that’s tastefully performed with Rothstein showing his blues chops on his guitar. <<>>
The first of the two vocals is called Witness with singer Audrey Martells sharing composer credit with Rothstein. It’s a worthwhile track with an interesting arrangement that launches into different directions. <<>>
One of the more laid-back tracks on the album is called Strum which resists the temptation to slip into the cliches of smooth jazz, despite the prominent appearance by the soprano sax of Tom Timko. <<>>
On the other hand with the energy level cranked up a few notches is Step Out on which Rothstein puts in one of his better solos. <<>>
The other vocal is called Hell Mary which is most toward rock on the album. It’s also another strong track artistically. <<>>
And at the other end of the spectrum is CAB 804 (Samba) with its jazzy Latin influenced sound. <<>>
Truth Against the World the new album by the Andy Rothstein Band presents a generous helping of impressively competent, tasteful and engaging jazz-rock fusion in the 21st Century. The classic elements of the genre are there, with the rockier side of the jazz-rock scale emphasized more, but the playing is great and the compositions are worthy of kudos.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus, with a generally clean mix, the acoustic instruments such as the horns, piano and drums, captured well. As is so often the case, the dynamic range was compromised by volume compression trying to needlessly gin up the loudness.
It has been about 50 years since the jazz-rock fusion scene began appearing in the wake of Miles Davis’ electric experiments. The genre remains active and is in good hands with artists like Andy Rothstein.