Joel Frahm – We Used To Dance (2007)

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by Pico

Sometimes a record doesn’t smack you across the head on the first listen but at some point…maybe that 3rd or 4th listen…it hits you: “Damn! This is some well made, well played music!” That’s how it was with me for Joel Frahm’s new release, We Used To Dance.

Frahm isn’t a guy who isn’t writing a new chapter in the long, storied history of jazz, nor does he seem to set out to do that. But mainline, middle of the road post bop jazz is a always a sublime experience to listen to when it’s executed as well as it is as it is here.

Frahm is part of a newer generation of tenorists to come out of the Big Apple that’s currently ruling the jazz scene there, like Chris Potter, although he doesn’t seem to enjoy the recognition out of the NYC area that Potter does. We Used To Dance may very well change that.

Frahm’s rich, relaxed sax style falls somewhere between Joe Lovano’s and Wayne Shorter’s, which is a very nice style to have. Other times you can make out classic-era Rollins and occasionally some of his solo flights recalls the late, great Michael Brecker. But Frahm absorbs all these influences into his own warm, polished style.

It’s not blatant, but there’s also a little Stan Getz somewhere in there, as well. The Getz connection is strengthened by the fact that Frahm’s rhythm section for this session was one of Getz’s last great ones: Kenny Barron (piano), Rufus Reid (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums).

Barron, a brilliant pianist who could elevate anyone’s record, was one of Frahm’s teachers at Rutgers University. From him he most likely learned how to swing so effortlessly and smoothly through chord changes, as Barron can do like no other.

Reid and Lewis are similarly long time top-tiered players on jazz scene. But with all this juice backing up Frahm, all are the consummate professionals: keeping the leader up front and looking good and not threatening to overtake him. Make no mistake, it’s Frahm’s show all the way.

We Used To Dance doesn’t go for an overall theme; Frahm mixes tempo, styles (within bop) and originals with covers. He’s used this occasion to showcase his own composing pen up against more established ones and more than holds his own. And he does it by using a good amount of both breadth and depth.

Start with the simple blues dedicated to his father that leads off the CD. “Bob’s Blues” shows both the leader and his top-drawer band handling the fundamentals with all the self-assurance that can from woodshedding at Rutgers and the bars of New York City. There’s no over-the-top grandstanding or pointy-head pretension; just guys playing twelve bars with sincerity.

In contrast, “A Whole New You” pays tribute to the bebop of Parker, while “The Dreamer” sports shifting time metres and some nice flowing lines from Barron. The title song is a melancholy ballad where Frahm makes every note counts. On “Jobimiola,” a 5/8 melody is cleverly overlayed on a 4/4 bossa nova beat.

But “Nad Noord” is Frahm’s most ambitious composition and one that most displays his potential as a jazz composer. Arguably the centerpiece track, it consists of several, tempo-varying sections, highlighted by some particularly passionate but controlled playing by Frahm and a succinct, sharp drum solo by Lewis.

There are other people’s songs in this collection, too. A couple of Barron’s better efforts are performed here, like the mildly bossa nova “Joanne Julia”, a tune that was previously performed by the Great Getz. “Song for Abdullah”, Barron’s tribute to fellow pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, is given a beautifully soulful rendering by Frahm.

And then there are “traditional” covers, like “My Ideal”, which is played in a straightforward, romantic fashion. Another ballad “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” makes you appreciate how sweet a tenor can sound.

Most promising young jazz musicians reach a point where that promise is fulfilled with an album that is mature, confident and complete. For me, Lovano’s From The Soul comes to mind among the more recent examples. Likewise, We Used To Dance is one of those records. By shining while hanging with the big boys, Joel Frahm has proven he belongs in their company.

Purchase: Joel Frahm We Used To Dance

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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