by Willard Manus
LOS ANGELES-- A couple of years ago I reviewed Fuzzy Music's release of PETER ERSKINE & ALAN PASQUA WITH DAVID CARPENTER; LIVE AT ROCCO'S, The CD featured the exquisite musical teamwork of drummer Erskine and pianist Pasqua, who met as students at Indiana University back in 1971 and developed a special rapport that continues to this day.
Now Fuzzy Music (more on this fledgling company later) has released another CD which again features Erskine, THE LOUNGE ART ENSEMBLE--LAVA JAZZ. Joining the gifted drummer are Dave Carpenter on acoustic bass (he also took part in the Rocco gig), and Bob Sheppard on saxophone.
Lounge music is popular these days, at least in L.A. and New York. Retro in outlook, bands like Joey Altruda's Cocktails with Joey play theme music from popular TV shows of the 50s and 60s. Capitol Records has a best-selling Ultra Lounge Series that offers such oldtimers as Sarah Vaughan and Keely Smith.
As Zan Stewart comments in the liner notes of LAVA JAZZ, "The Lounge Art Ensemble has its own slant on this not always hip trend (a lot of what passes for lounge music is tripe). This exploratory yet musically ace band is comprised of three of the finest jazz musicians anywhere...and it plays old tunes. Only these evergreens are outfitted with spanking new melodies, and invigorating chord changes as well; this idea goes back to bebop when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillsespie (among others) did the same thing.
"'Perdido' is one such oldie that's included here; Sheppard calls it 'Pretty Toes.' Other re-worked classics ...are 'It Already Happened,' written over a version of the chords to 'It Could Happen To You,' and 'You Stepped In,' based loosely on the standard, 'You Stepped Out of a Dream.'"
The Lounge Art Ensemble really did play in a lounge--Chadney's in Burbank--but the CD in question was put together at Mad Hatter Studios in L.A. Technical explanations aside, the CD works because the level of playing is so high. Sheppard, Carpenter and Erskine are superb musicians who combine taste with the ability to swing.
Their timing and melding on unison passages is matched by their soloing, sometimes on a variety of instruments (Shep goes back and forth between soprano and tenor saxophones, for example). Together they deliver some of the finest jazz being played today--innovative, fresh-sounding and catchy.
Fuzzy Music is a label launched by Peter Donald, a drummer/composer who has played and recorded extensively over the years but who yearned to get out from under the yoke of commercial restrictions. The best way to to create and explore the music he loved was to start his own company. Based in Santa Monica, (visit www.fuzzymusic.com), the company has given such artists as Erskine and Pasqua the chance to record, but now Donald has stepped up to the plate himself, joined by bassist Abraham Laboriel and pianist Tom Rainier.
The trio, who have played together (in other groups) for three decades, shows off its talents on 3 PRIME, which was recorded live at Rocco's in Bel Air. With an appreciative audience spurring them on, the band puts everything they have into such extended numbers as 'Jet Samba' and 'Snippy.' The result is the very best of millenial jazz, a five-star effort which blends straight-ahead and fusion in a fresh-sounding, adventurous way.