East coast writers used to make jokes about the "West Coast school of Jazz," but for all I know that distinction was dreamt up by John O'Hara in the '30s so he could make fun of the musicians who moved to Hollywood so they could make an actual living. I suppose if the 'school' ever actually existed, the music probably sported slightly fewer blues roots and more melodic as opposed to more experimental directions. Maybe. This rather breezy, often inspired recording of bassist Dean Taba's quintet (with two drummers; talk about propulsion) is a good place from which a critic with nothing better to do (a common accusation leveled at many of us) might reformulate a hypothesis stating that there really is a West coast school since both those attributes figure here. Of course, normal folks who just want to know if this CD is any good should be told that once the vocalist lays out there's no stopping these guys.
Taba is a swinger of seeming ancient provenance updated, he knows all the methods and can 'swing' it even if you have no rope for him to tie it to... to upend the old caveat. "Two Views" is a strong hard-bop workout, opening with Taba trio-ing with drummers Kendall Kay and Tim McIntyre. As wild as can be, and I would gladly have let the horns keep off the stage for the whole nine minutes. But they're no pikers either: Steve Huffstetter's trumpet has some of Miles Davis' tartness and Clifford Brown's inventive sense, while Andrew Suzuki's tenor recalls Charlie Rouse in its humorous brinkmanship. "Think Of Juan" is partially 'dedicated' to trombonist Juan Tizol and remembers the infamous Duke Ellington Orchestra incident in the '50s in which Tizol and then-bassist Charles Mingus had a bit of a falling-out. For all the pertinent details, see the Mingus section of Nat Hentoff's book JAZZ IS. "Think of Juan," the cross-reference to Monk aside, bounces on the multi-leveled trampoline that Taba, McIntyre and Kay provide, a thick carpet of possibilities among which Suzuki and Huffstetter pick and choose with no small expertise. Dizzying! Drum solos burst up out of the ground, horns drop in and out supposedly on a whim, and Taba nods his head in approval. Sometimes audibly, sometimes otherwise.
I'm not as big a fan of the vocal bits; guest reciter Dave Allen natters with some wit on the subject of his recently departed set of wheels in "Dave's Car (parts 1-3)": the accompaniment by the musicians is sharp and sometimes augments Allen's intellectual-sad-sack delivery but I really wish there weren't 16:54 of that to sit through. Amusing, but the instrumental bits are far more eloquent. "Yaichi" fares better because the taped call-and-response between the interviewer and Mr. Taba's maternal grandfather is more organically integrated into the music; one hears the musicians cushioning and wheeling around the spoken words in a solidly subtle performance. But it still doesn't beat the mellifluous bopping of "In the Outdoors" and "No More Net." Per that last and its accompanying liner note: yes, Mr. Taba, if Ornette Coleman were a trapeze artist he would not use a net. Hardly surprising that the Taba Quntet doesn't either, and for the most part we're all better off.
by Kenneth Egbert
Copyright Jazz Now, April 2004 issue, all rights reserved
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