Quickies: Ede Wright, Tobin Mueller, Stefano Leonardi

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Getting the word out on some of more esoteric or little-known artists and their albums is something we love doing here at Something Else, hence the name for our little tea room on the interwebs. “Quickies” is where I’ve yakked up a lot of records by musicians who are not rich and famous yet, but in my view, should be…at least a little richer and more famous than they are now.

The Quickies that came out just the other day included a few unfamiliar names whose records were in my view every bit as good as the more established hombre’s highlighted in the same column. But this installment of Quickies is even more concentrated on guys falling on various points of the jazz spectrum who’ve humbly self-released their records (or released them on tiny labels), self-promoted them, or sometimes both. One thing they all have in common in is that they’ve got the skills to earn wider attention.

The other thing these musicians share is the hunger to make their own mark on music. Each brings something a little unique and personal to the table. They’re clearly inspired and influenced by others, but their own personalities shine on through. So let’s investigate these personal offerings, shall we?

Ede WrightEarthbound Gravity

Atlanta, Georgia based guitarist Ede Wright has toured in Lizz Wright’s band, as well as worked with such diverse acts as Destiny’s Child, India.Arie, k.d. Lang, David Sanborn, P’taah and Everything But the Girl. You get the notion that an Ede Wright solo record can be just about any kind of record Ede (pronounced “Eddie”) wants it to be.

What it is, is a first-rate contemporary jazz record. When I say “contemporary” jazz, I don’t mean “smooth” jazz. Oh no, the production is too lean, the compositions (mostly Wright originals) too involved and the musicianship too tight.

That’s not to say these songs aren’t listenable, they very much are, and they’ll be the accessible songs employing odd signatures you’re likely to hear this side of Steely Dan. The soulful, bass riff-based “Noche Besso”, the 5/4 funk of “Funk In Five” or the imaginatively reconstructed Björk industrial rock hit “Army Of Me” are just a few examples of where fun and discerning intersect.

Ultimately, though, it’s Ede’s guitar that’s the main draw. The guy can flat out play, with a sweet tone and cliché-free licks that makes every one of those notes count. Backed by a sympathetic, funky rhythm section of Marc Miller (bass) and Chris Burroughs (drums), Wright’s angular music is supplemented occasionally with a sax, trumpet or piano.

Earthbound Gravity came out last year, and is self-released.

Tobin MuellerRain Bather

When we speak of artists here, we are of course speaking of musicians. But Tobin Mueller is an artist in just about every sense of the word: musician, novelist, playwright, poet, photographer, graphic artist and web designer…the list goes on. There’s only room on this site to discuss the music, but for those wishing to explore the other sides of Mueller should peruse his website.

Even within Rain Bather, however, Mueller’s wide, wide scope is very much apparent. Working primarily from a base configuration of Mueller’s organ, synth and/or electric piano, Chris Muller’s acoustic piano, Dane Richeson’s drums and Jeff Cox’s or Butch Taylor’s bass, Tobin adds and subtracts from this, depending on what each track’s arrangement calls for. Three of the first four selections employ four horns, allowing these songs to come fully alive as progressive big band pieces.

Other songs run the gamut from bop (“Must Go Back”), to Brecker Brothers styled funk-jazz (“Windowshade”) to acid jazz (“Acid Hopping”). No matter what Mueller does, he sounds like he knows what he’s doing. Eight of the tracks are compositions Mueller wrote for the 90’s Broadway show Creature, but he creatively restructured these songs such that you’d be hard pressed to figure out which ones were written for the stage. The arrangements and Mueller compositional acumen might even be considered the common thread in these songs; Mueller doesn’t step out in front of the band much, he plays more in service of the songs and gives his bandmates most of the solos.

If you like jumping from style to style, Rain Bather allows you to do that within a single CD, as long as it’s within the broad realm of jazz. Tobin Mueller is no stranger to diversity, and his music is well suited for others who embrace that concept.

Oh, and about the one way that Mueller doesn’t present his music on Rain Bather is by solo piano. Perhaps that’s because he already covered that base a couple of years ago with 13 Masks.

Rain Bather came out earlier this year and is currently on sale at CDBaby.

Stefano LeonardiE-Ray

In the past we’ve raised a fuss over those virtuosic trumpet players from Italy Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu. But good jazz from that culturally rich country doesn’t end with those guys. For further evidence of the continuing vitality of Italian jazz, I present to you Stefano Leonardi.

Leonardi is a flautist who follows in the great jazz flute tradition of Herbie Mann and Jeremy Steig. And like those two, he’s chosen to supplement a traditional bass and drums r
hythm section (Paolo Ghetti and Carlo Alberto Canevali) with a guitarist (Matteo Turella) for his foil. Caneveli’s tasteful shadings and Ghetti’s expansive bass provide a solid foundation throughout, but the combination of Leonardi and Turella creates the harmonic footprint.

Leonardi’s debut CD E-Ray brings all that out, and what makes it all the better is the variety in moods and styles found from track to track. “Abrib’s Circle” is propelled by a perky, 21st century groove while “E-Ray” seems to draw its inspiration from traditional Bedouin folk music. A couple of Mann songs are thrown in for good measure (“Basin Street Este,” “Tel Aviv”), and the album wraps up with a lightly swinging rendition of the spiritual standard “Afro Blue” that showcases the solo talents of each band member rather well.

They say you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression, but Stefano Leonardi needs no second chance, anyway. He’s laid the foundation for a promising recording career and it’s worthwhile to see what he will do for a follow-up. In the meantime, E-Ray gives flute jazz fans plenty to chew on.

E-Ray came out in Italy last June and is available stateside as an import.

Purchase: Stefano Leonardi – E-Ray

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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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