Bobby Selvaggio – Way of Being (2013)

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Bobby Selvaggio heads up two different kinds of bands, but he solved a potential dilemma of which band to record for an album by simply including sessions by both combos on the same record.

Way of Being, as the album is called, is half Grass Roots Movement and half Shake Trio, but the alto saxophonist managed to make a remarkably cogent and connected record, mainly by Selvaggio’s distinctive alto sax and a strong sense of groove that pervades both side of this album. As an immensely talented post-bop performer and composer who just recently took a walk on the electric side, he reconciles the tradition with contemporary. As Selvaggio grouped together the respective electric tracks and acoustic tracks, so shall I group this discussion.

The Grass Roots Movement bowed two years ago with an album of the same name. Back then it was a five piece band featuring Selvaggio, guitarist Nir Felder, keyboardist Frank LoCrasto , drummer James Johnson and electric bassist Kip Reed. It was energetic, democratic and dynamic band where Selvaggio made the leap with no loss of integrity, because he kept the performances top notch, the harmonies complex and the rhythms restless. Those are the same adjectives to apply for these first five tracks of Way of Being, except that these grooves are even leaner, because Felder and LoCrasto were replaced with guitarist Parker (the rhythm section stays put). To the Reed and Johnson’s credit, they get groovin’ a different way each time. “Shake” is a tough groove over which Selvaggio expertly paces a blazing solo. But not before Parker unexpectedly uncorks a blues slide guitar, unhurried but in the pocket. “Zombie Apocalypse” is a syncopated, slow vibe, a chance for Selvaggio to display a deeply soulful side; Reed’s funky, melodic bass line sets the table. The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is artfully reharmonized as Johnson’s drums are very active and propulsive. Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” stays truer to the original harmonically, but the fragmented funk beat complemented by Parker’s rhythm guitar gives this rendition its own appeal.

When the Shake Trio appears starting with the sixth track, you know you’re listening to a different band but not a jarringly different vibe. Ashley Summer’s standup bass firmly defines the harmonics and Chris Baker’s drums works in tandem to lay down some not necessarily jazz rhythms, allowing Selvaggio wide latitude. The vamp-based “Flow” starts with Summers’ bass launches into contrapuntal harmony with Selvaggio, sharing the lead position with him without having to be showy. Meanwhile, there is plenty of bop lineage in Selvaggio’s horn, just as there was in Cannonball Adderley’s when he played soul-jazz. Yet, there’s also a very modern feel to the whole proceeding. “Sonic Fence” is delightful for how it vacillates between a hard groove and swing. Very dynamic and urgent, the group is playing very together, and Baker put the exclamation point on it, going unfettered right at the end. “Kwanza Muwanga” spices up the jazz with some calypso, and “Dance Of The Tail Chasing Cats” makes a sweaty funk workout out of an odd time signature.

The best of both worlds are presented in Way of Being, and Selvaggio nevertheless makes a record that flows well. Because is doesn’t matter if the instruments are plugged in or not, it’s how the songs are constructed and how they’re played. Selvaggio brings an intelligent, swinging and yes, grooving approach to the music no matter what.

Way of Being was released February 12, by Arabesque Recordings. Visit Bobby Selvaggio’s website for more info.

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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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