The Graham Album Review #2058
DiCosimo/Pagan: Con Moto
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/3/2021)
The spectrum of the jazz-rock fusion genre runs, as the name implies, from one component to the other: music that is quite jazzy and less electric, to music that is very much electric and rocky with less of the traditional jazz influence. A number of the fusion pioneers have gotten less electric in recent years such as Chick Corea and the band Yellowjackets. But there are emerging groups that tend toward the electric side of things. This week we have an album that more or less splits it down the middle with some jazzy tracks and a some more electric material, along with two covers of rock songs.
The album is by DiCosimo/Pagan, and it’s called Con Moto. Keyboard man Bill DiCosimo and bassist and occasional vocalist Edgar Pagan, have been working together for over 20 years on various projects around Central New York. Both have been members of the band Grupo Pagan, but the two decided to do a project together, attracting a number of prominent guests from the fusion world, including Jeff Lorber, former Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummers Gary Novak, and Karma Auger, son of veteran British keyboard man Brian Auger. Haslip served at the producer for this relatively brief 32 minute album.
The material runs from Latin-jazz flavored, to funk to fairly classic fusion in sound, to covers of songs by Steppenwolf and the band War. The album comes from three different sessions with different personnel on each, mostly recorded in the Los Angeles area, but one track is listed as having been recorded in Japan. Despite the variable lineups, the sound is fairly consistent, in terms of the musical feel – a strong groove, but not all-out funk, with a Latin undercurrent often manifesting itself. Four of the five original tracks are joint compositions by DiCosimo and Pagan, with the other one, listed as a “bonus track” is more of a pop song written with a guest vocalist.
Leading off is a piece appropriately called So It Begins, which personifies the sound of the album, with a fairly strong funk-rock beat driven by Karma Auger’s drums, with the jazzy sounding electric piano of Bill DiCosimo. The song boasts an infectious groove.
The first of the covers is the old 1960s song by the band Steppenwolf, Magic Carpet Ride. Pagan does the lead vocals, in this arrangement that is fairly similar to the original. Though the jam-band style solo gets interesting.
The group shows its Latin side on the track called Samba Pagan, in which Bill DiCosimo does a good simulation of flutes with his synthesizers.
Blues Clues is one of the more more lighthearted-sounding tracks. The loping rhythm and playful key modulations make the track a winner. Bill DiCosimo’s electric piano mainly occupies the lead, but guitarist Nick Kellie contributes much to the track.
The other of the covers is the War song Cisco Kid, done as an instrumental. DiCosimo is heard leading the group from his Hammond B3 organ, giving the track a sound reminiscent of Booker T and the MGs.
Probably the piece with the most Latin influence is Taino Spirit. The timbales played by Jimmy Branley are prominent, salsa-style.
The album closes with the other vocal, an original tune Show the World, written by Pagan with Bob Halligan, Jr., from the band Ceili Rain, who does the lead vocal. The lyrics are a kind of hippie Kumbaya song, which seems a bit quaint and saccharine in a cynical world. The tune takes a kind of reggae beat, and has its moments, but overall seems slightly out of place on the album. The track is the one recorded at least in part in Japan.
Con Moto is the musical term for keeping things in motion rhythmically. The album by that name from Bill DiCosimo and Edgar Pagan is a worthwhile fusion release that rather splits the difference between the rock and jazz aspects. It’s an appealing recording that features high quality musicianship, and has a generally coherent sound despite featuring two essentially two different backing bands for bassist Pagan and keyboardist DiCosimo. Their original material is definitely stronger than the cover tunes they do. But in its rather short length, the album does have a lot to offer.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. There is decent clarity and the mix keeps everything in perspective. But the dynamic range is mediocre at best, with the volume compression robbing the music of its ebb and flow, and everything coming out at the same boringly constant volume.
Jazz-rock fusion has come a long way since its heyday in the 1970s. The new album by DiCosimo and Pagan borrows from the some classic elements, and is hardly iconoclastic, but does what it does very well, so it ends up being a most appealing record.