The toughest part about writing this review has been trying to decide if I should file it under the jazz category or the fusion jazz category. And whenever that conundrum happens, it’s usually a good sign for the record.
Geoff Vidal is an up-and-comer tenor saxophonist whose made his name in the Boston area as well as New Orleans before trying his luck in the Big Apple. It wasn’t long before he found himself in demand in bands that played everything from New Orleans funk to big band jazz. Spreading himself out over eight—that’s right–eight bands (including a quartet co-led with Noah Preminger), Vidal was ready to cut his own record by 2009, and the results are now in.
She Likes That is such a record that’s familiar but hard to categorize all at once. With the rich variety of gigs Vidal got involved with, maybe that’s what to expect. There’s no ambiguity about Vidal’s playing style: he’s got that big fat, range-y but tasteful Joe Lovano characteristic, which really comes to the fore on the ballad “Time Apart.” But the rest of the album is more of a team effort, and Vidal himself confirms it: “The album is under my name, but it’s really a band project, and I couldn’t be happier with how we played.”
His choice of bandmates, I believe, play a huge role in making this record stand out from your run-of-the-mill jazz records. Joe Hundertmark (guitar), Michael O’Brien (bass) and Makaya McCraven (drums) combine to create a spacious, tough sound, swinging like mad the whole time. The presence of trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt on three tracks doesn’t disturb the vibe, either. All young players (O’Brien’s the eldest at 36 years old), they bring vitality and non-jazz interests into the mix.
“Darjeeling” is distinguished by McCraven’s two-beat accents and Hundertmark’s breezy and buoyant guitar, while “O-Zoning” bristles over a strident mid-tempo pace with stimulating three-way unison lines involving Vidal, Greenblatt and Hundertmark. McCraven has been an immovable force on the whole album, often setting the tone for the songs as much as Vidal, and “Freediver” is one of those times where he takes over a song. Mixed into forceful drumming are moments where he brings down the cadence to gentle landings, proving he is the complete package as a drummer. McCraven, by the way produced the record. “Lanusa” (YouTube below) has the prettiest melody of all the tunes here, and Vidal and Hundertmark combine well to cast that melody in the best possible light.
All that hinting at full blown rock-jazz fusion are finally realized on the forceful last track, “She Likes That.” Sort of. Even here, this isn’t your typical fusion song, as the theme has a distinct Middle-Eastern flavor to it, twisting rhythms, and Vidal nimbly working with and around Greenblatt. Hundertmark wails on his guitar hard rock style, tugging the song with McCraven in one direction as the horn players pull it toward another. The friction this creates drives the song to another level, ending the album with an exclamation point and leaving the listener wanting for more.