Foundations Jazz Records Twofer: Curt Ramm/Dan Moretti/Bill Cunliffe & Dan Moretti

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by S. Victor Aaron

So let’s see…

The saxophonist has played for such big names in jazz, soul and pop such as Nile Rodgers, The Crusaders, Aretha Franklin, Mike Stern, Dave Liebman and The Temptations. Eleven of his own records have appeared on the music charts.

The trumpet player has played behind Elton John, Paul Simon, David Sanborn, Levon Helm and Patti LaBelle, toured with Bruce Springsteen and Nile Rodgers and regularly jams with They Might Be Giants. He also co-founded the eighties fusion band Ocean.

The keyboardist used to gig with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich. Later on, he played with jazz heavies like Freddie Hubbard, Joshua Redman, Joe Henderson, Benny Golson and James Moody. He has twelve CD’s as a leader, including the challenging re-imagining Oliver Nelson’s Blues And The Abstract Truth that last year garnered a Grammy nomination for “Best Instrumental Jazz Recording.”

When these three seasoned veterans decided to get together to record an album, it was a joint venture simply too big to merely content themselves with cutting a disc, so they started an entire freakin’ record company. They called this record company Foundations Jazz Records.

In this long-overdue resurrection of our Two-fer series, we look at two new releases by this fledgling label, the first by that sax player (Dan Moretti), trumpet player (Curt Ramm) and the keyboardist (Bill Cunliffe). The second CD is led solely by Moretti. Both are by highly experienced players who use their talents to bring forth jazz that’s greatly accessible but not at all shallow.

The launch of any record label devoted to bringing more jazz to the public’s ears is always a welcome event. Godspeed to Foundations…

Curt Ramm/Dan Moretti/Bill CunliffeFoundations

The record that ushered in a record company of the same name, Foundations is the result of three, like-minded veterans of nearly every style of music imaginable getting together to make music that’s fun for them to make. For these three, “fun” is a contemporary minded rendering of the soul-jazz and hard bop found on so many classic Blue Note records. It reminds me a bit of two other artists who are taking similar routes with their music that we’ve covered here recently: Derrick Gardner and Dave Siebels.

It isn’t just these three playing; the rhythm section is handled by acoustic and electric bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards. Both of these guys’ résumés are nothing to sneeze at, either. All eleven tunes are originals: six are Cunliffe/Ramm collaborations and the remaining five are written by Moretti.

I was surprised to learn that this album marks the first time Ramm’s name has appeared on a record’s headliner, even as a co-leader. Ramm, like so many of the better trumpters of today, shows the precise, post-bop influence of Freddie Hubbard, but also displays the lyricism of Art Farmer. This guy is more than good enough to helm some good records of his own.

The songs all pack punch of varying intensity with logically constructed melodies, ranging from the no-nonsense post-bop swing of “Little Bit” to the bouncy boogaloo of “Get In Line.” Cunliffe is found playing piano, organ or electric piano, whichever is right for the setting. Moretti favors his tenor, but switches over to soprano sax for “MM&D,” while Ramm mutes his horn for this cool shuffling blues-based tune. Even the slower tunes burn, like the dark soul of
“Tired Corn” .

Well-performed with songs that have too much depth to be called smooth jazz but without any rough edges either, this Ramm/Moretti/Cunliffe collaboration strikes the right balance that’s bound to appeal to a wide cross-section of jazz listeners. Foundations hit the streets last May 5.

Dan MorettiTres Muse

For Tres Muse, Moretti retains just the “Marty squared” rhythm section from Foundations and stretches out a little more in this chordal instrument-free set of eleven Moretti originals. With only a sax, bass and drums, one has the freedom to choose from an abundance of styles to play, or an endless combination of styles. In a recent interview, Moretti was asked to describe his musical style in three words and he replied “soul, latin and swing.” There’s strains of those music forms present on Tres Muse, and then some.

The overriding form is
still jazz, but it’s loose, spirited and playful. Ballou sticks to electric bass throughout for these tracks, and it does much to shape the sound. With Richards’ drumming powerfully and filling in much of the sonic container, Ballou’s amped bass keeps pace. He plays it in the bop style, much in the way that electric bass legend Steve Swallow does.

With a rhythm section doing much of the fundamental job setting up the rhythms and defining the harmony, Moretti’s job is made much easier. The cool-toned approach he undertook on Foundations gets a little warmer here, but not much warmer, because there’s little need to. He’s written songs that are distinct from each other and reveal their full characters even in this spare arrangement. Big Easy mannerisms come fully to life in cuts like “Off The One” and “Fais Do-Do.” “Cajun The Squirrel” is charged by Richards’ rolling rhythm, and Moretti paints soul strokes all over Ballou’s two-note vamp. “Mumbo Jumbo” with it’s mild bossa nova feel, is an artful, and a little sensual. As the name implies, “Walk The Talk” is a based on Ballou’s bass-walking, Moretti horn is jaunty, and Richards gets to show his stuff in a drum solo. “Ready Set Free” has a suspended, blue harmony with no real time signature, but remains rooted.

By now, you get the idea that there are a lot of little ideas used in Tres Muse, and executed with relaxed confidence. The Tres Muse CD will go on sale September 15, but it’s currently available in MP3 form.

Visit the Foundations Jazz Records site here.

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