Zack Brock and the Coffee Achievers

Secret Fort Records, USA - CD

The Jazz violin needs further rehabilitation. Not that Billy Bang and Mark Feldman aren't doing all they can: it's just that since the death of Stephane Grappelli I have not come across the usual interest in integrating the instrument into ensembles that I used to see. Hopefully that just means I haven't been dropping into the right clubs or hearing the right CDs, this one in particular being quite right indeed.` You Jean-Luc Ponty fans would feel peripherally at home, but I think that young Zach Brock is more in the Ray Nance mold; his instrument has a sweet tone that makes me fondly recall Nance's break in the "My Love" section of Duke Ellington's THIRD SACRED CONCERT (RCA Records-USA, if memory serves). Brock's tone is so well-rounded it almost made me wonder if it was an alto sax in the initial few bars of the first-up "Now I Know." Sam Bar-sheshet's modal comping over Nori Tanaka's delicious cymbal dance trampolines Brock into a knotty if tuneful melody, the like of which can be heard all over this recording. Bar-sheshet plays a few notes too many sometimes, but he doesn't inundate you with them; oddly he cuts way back on the foliage when he plays organ, as in the even more fetching "Common Ground." Medeski, Martin and Wood fans will raise an eyebrow there, as under Sam's warm variations on the tune Brock is picking out a sunny samba-like progression on his electric viol. Oddly but refreshingly, the track itself has no real Brazilian postmark; Brock's move is just part of the soup's flavor. Nice touch. Matt Wigton, bassist, rounds out the foursome with a chugging line that made me hit the 'repeat' button again several times on several tracks. In fact, the band has arranged the pieces in an admittedly unsurprising fashion but the parts are all of such a strong component, it hardly makes a difference. Tanaka keeps time in Wigton's piece "Turn" with a cheerful slapdash, and incidentally while you are taking in this fine music you may well be (as I was) staring at the liner pictures on the CD case and wondering just what artist Willie Robertson had in mind: a man climbing out of a coffee cup and declaiming through a megaphone, a violin turning into a tree and growing apples, a man in a 'day' suit leaping into the night sky... somebody's a Gong fan. Well, the music is more sober but not a whit less fun. The bouncy "Coffee Achiever" features Brock picking more in a 'banjo' style to open onto the 'travelin' man' motif from Tanaks's snares; once Bar-sheshet's piano has had its say, Brock and Wigton link up to take the song out in a picker's blitz. As neat as all get-out. Wigton's "Solitary Candle" recalls the later, less ethereal Oregon, the composer getting us moving with a lengthy bass meditationand Bar-sheshet slowly lifting us into the stratosphere. Again, very affecting. Might "Mister Shaw" be recalling Woody? Hard to tell since there's no trumpet parts, but it's a quietly bracing fare-thee-well to this highly recommended CD; Bar-sheshet again enters a kind of modality while Brock and Wigton testify in long tones. It's the 'freest' thing on the CD, yet once they do shift into a structure, yeah, it may just be something for Woody that Woody could have said. If he'd thought of it.

More often than not, if you listen real close you wiill hear that somebody is scatsinging along with the band. That wasn't me, but it could have been.

by Kenneth Egbert

New Sounds - September 2004

Jazz Now Interactive September 2004 Vol 14 No. 5 - Table of Contents