MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
The dizzying array of names emblazoned on the CD cover, Billy Cobham, John Patitucci, Vinnie Coliauta, and Eric Marienthal, prominent among the 32, speaks to the album title, Connections for keyboardist Steve Hunt’s second album as a leader. Those prominent names suggest a fusion outing which is what keyboardist Hunt delivers here across nine original compositions, the title track running past 13 minutes, each with a different lineup. In fact, only a few play on more than one track. Hunt, of course, on various keys, is the leader on all. He is a progressive, fusion-oriented jazz pianist, keyboardist, and composer that in addition to performing and touring, also serves as an instructor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and runs his own recording studio, The Kitchen.
With a resume that includes top Boston jazz musicians such as Randy Roos and Tiger Okoshi, and leading his own jazz fusion band, Hunt spent the next ten years on the road with several renowned jazz artists such as Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Angela Bofill, Tom Brown, and Allan Holdsworth. During this time, Hunt also served as musical director for the famous touring Jazz Explosion. He led the trio, which headlined artists Freddy Hubbard, Gato Barbieri, Stanley Turrentine, Ramsey Lewis, violinist Noel Pointer, Kenny G, and the late Phyillis Hyman. Hunt’s fluid musicality and ability to make challenging music sound effortless are nowhere more evident than his longtime association with Allan Holdsworth. Hunt recorded with Holdsworth on such legendary albums as Secrets, Wardencliff Tower, and Hard Hat Area. Holdsworth included Hunt’s original tunes “Maid Marion,” “Joshua,” and “Dodgy Boat.” Other noteworthy recording contributions include Stanley Clarke’s CD releases If This Bass Could Only Talk and East River Drive. Hunt is now releasing this album as the leader, inspired by his exploring collaborations with longtime friends.
“Now’s The Time” (not the Bird tune) opens with a rhythm section of fusion veterans – Nate Wood on drums, Jorge Bezerra on percussion and vocal, and Etienne Mbappe on bass holding down groove while tenorist Tucker Antell joins Hunt who plays the funky jazz-rock melody on multiple keys. “Prayer For A New Day (Cherokee Morning Song)” builds as the various instruments layer in, bassist Jimmy Haslip’s big sound supports the atmosphere of percussion, cymbal swells, and later, vocals chanting the melody. Drummer Chad Wackerman and bassist Haslip support Dennis Yerry’s Native American flute and vocal part (some chanting) as Hunt’s prominent keyboards fill the space. Again, the combination of jazz fusion and world music is a central theme to Hunt’s composing style.
“Memories of Sherwood” is a spacey, enchanting, mid-tempo piece featuring bassist Jimmy Earl, guitarist Alex Machacek, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and Robert Ritchiesse who plays a bowed string instrument, the izraj, here as he did on the previous track. “First Creation” is dedicated to Victor Bailey and is another whirling, swirling, funky workout with bassist Evan Marien, longtime associate, guitarist Randy Roos, drummer Virgil Donati and percussionist Jorge Bezerra. The smooth, flowing, at times meandering and at times spiritual “Carry On” is dedicated to Holdsworth, performed by the trio of bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Gary Husband while Nando Lauria sings the wordless vocals, somewhat evoking Flora Purim. Lauria remains for “Qunatum Entanglement” along with Johnson and Wackerman while Ole Mathisen steps in with soprano sax to add a different color to these mostly rhythm section driven pieces. Altoist Eric Marienthal fills this same role on “Full Plate,” pushed by bassist Matt Garrison, drummer Tom Brechtlein, and percussionist Ricardo Monzon.
Billy Cobham’s furious drum solo leads into “Le Zonage Trois” before bassist Skuli Sverrisson begins soloing over Hunt’s richly textured chords and solid keyboard sounds. Once the groove is established, the three trade solo statements in an exciting display of technical power and melodic craftsmanship, with finishing touches applied by Ritchiesse on Grand guitar. The title track, the most serious, mood shifting, esoteric piece has John Patitucci playing acoustic and electric bass and Casey Scheuerell playing drums. Unlike any of the others it features a three-piece front line of Tucker Antell on tenor, Billy Buss on trumpet, and Bruce Williamson on bass clarinet. Jeff Lockhart joins on guitar as Hunt, in the vein of an elongated Weather Report piece, builds and develops themes with interesting rhythms and instrumental colors in a cinematic approach. The panoramic display shifts, changing the imagery to a funky conversation where the beats wrap around the horns before returning to its opening languid progressions.
Hunt pulls off quite an achievement here maintaining cohesion across this rotating cast of players. His compositions and keyboard leads are the common thread, proving yet again that fusion is very much alive some fifty years after its birth.
Keys – Steve Hunt
Bass – Etienne Mbappe, Jimmy Haslip, Jimmy Earl, Evan Marien, Jimmy Johnson, Skuli Sverrisson, Matt Garrison, John Patitucci (acoustic, electric)
Drums – Nate Wood, Chad Wackerman, Vinnie Colaiuta, Virgil Donati, Gary Husband, Billy Cobham, Tom Brechtlein, Casey Scheuerell
Percussion – Jorge Bezerra, Ricardo Monzon
Vocals – Jorge Bezerra, Joshua Hunt, Sophia Wackerman, Nando Lauria
Tabla, Percussion – Jerry Leake
Native American Flute, Perc., Vocal – Dennis Yerry
Izraj and Grand Guitar – Robert Ritchiesse
Guitar – Alex Machacek, Randy Roos, Jeff Lockhart
Tenor Sax – Tucker Antell
Soprano Sax – Ole Matheisen
Alto Sax – Eric Marienthal
Tenor Sax – Tucker Antell
Bass Clarinet – Bruce Williamson
Trumpet – Billy Buss