Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Greg Skaff 116th & Park Zoho 2012

So you are a young hot shot guitarist and just landed in the jazz mecca of the universe, New York City and the very first gig you land is with none other than Stanley Turrentine? To borrow a line from the movie Crossroads, "that boy can play!" We aren't in Kansas anymore Toto, at least that is where Skaff is originally from. The new release 116th & Park drops on 09/11/12 and promises to start turning heads quickly.

Now we find Skaff with perhaps the finest rhythm section in the Big Apple or perhaps a 100 mile radius, Pat Bianchi on organ and Ralph Peterson Jr. with whom Bianchi has worked with on numerous occasions so you know the core of the band is tight! There are a thousand six string want to be players in the naked city so what makes Skaff special? Aside from the blatantly obvious being talent to burn, the Zoho label is one of those rare specialty labels that if you find yourself transfixed with one artist then the vast majority of their catalog is consistent and takes the guess work out of your purchase. Zoho's consistency is amazing with artists such as Arturo O'Farrell, Hendrik Meurkens and now Greg Skaff.

Greg Skaff has the nice old school "swing lite" approach but his use of harmonics and the ability to change dynamics on the fly place him a cut above the guys you might find at Small's or Smoke that are there simply trying to be noticed. Skaff doesn't need to try. I have reviewed well over two dozen guitarists this year with about 5 making the "memorable" pile - this is one such release. How does Skaff do it? By taking the funky yet bop infused sound of the vintage guitar -B3 format into a more post modern context that allows Skaff to showcase his own unique voice. This isn't a riff on Grant Green or Kenny Burrell, this is blues infused post modern jazz worked at its highest level which includes five Skaff originals, one heave swinging tune by drummer Peterson and four carefully chosen covers including tunes from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk worked out with the precession of a surgeon with smoldering intensity and a harmonic development where there is great attention to detail while the warmth and organic feel of the quintet is never lost in the shuffle. Ballads, blues, burners and boogaloos, Skaff's prolific talents take the listener on a post modern journey through one of the most popular ensemble settings in modern jazz.

Improvisation is the key to make their sound literally larger than life and each member has chops to burn. Another tremendous key to the success of 116th  & Park is that the tunes are fresh if not slightly eclectic for this format. Too often the listener is treated to standards that have long since seen better days or pop covers that would not even pass for good hold music. Skaff is an original voice taking the sonic road less traveled and with killer results. One of the many highlights on this release include the beautiful Skaff ballad "Tropicalia" featuring the soulful rhythm section of Paul Nowinski on bass and accentuated with Mauro Refosco on percussion. "Beehive" is an up-tempo number that jump starts the party written by Harold Mabern who worked and recorded with the great Lee Morgan and that amazing retro spirit is reborn here with solid solo work from Bianchi on organ and of course Peterson not just content to sit back in the pocket, he owns the pocket as one of the most powerful lyrical drummers today. The trio including Skaff, Bianchi, and Peterson do a slight reharmonization on Buster William's "Dual Force" with amazing results of allowing their individual voices to work without a harmonic net, change dynamics at will and all while never losing the groove that makes this release so infectious.

A somewhat personal release, the inspiration for 116th and Park is drawn from a myriad of influences from the very neighborhood he has grown to love and call home. The musical irony while being "home" it is also a tongue-in-cheek reference to the BET hip hop show 106th & Park. While understanding and clearly demonstrating their respect for the tradition of the organ trio, Skaff and the ensemble proceed to push the music forward doing an end run around the accepted form and functionality of such a format while creating an exciting new voice that swings hard with infusions of style and genre that is far from the predictable B-3 trio as one can get. Expect the unexpected, Skaff flips the traditional organ trio on its head and forges a new path for others to follow. A most impressive outing that seems to reveal something new with each subsequent spin of the disc.

Tracks: Beehive; 116th & Park; Dual Force; Lapis; Bye-Ya; Tropicalia; The Jugular; Invocation; Come Sunday; Serenade To A Surdo.

Personnel: Greg Skaff: guitars; Pat Bianchi: hammond organ (1-5 & 7-10) ; Ralph Peterson Jr.: drums (1-5 & 7-10) ; Paul Nowinski: bass (6); Mauro Refosco: percussion (6).

Photo credit to Zoho Music and Artist web site.