Intriguing New Melodic Sounds from Ro Sham Beaux
Boston quartet Ro Sham Beaux has an interesting, individual sound and a new, self-titled album out, Zac Shaiman’s bittersweet alto sax lines sailing over high, ringing, echoing electric piano (it sounds like keyboardist Luke Marantz is playing a Nord Electro) and a hard-hitting rhythm section of Oliver Watkinson on bass and Jacob Cole on drums. Cole’s funky swing and crushing volleys add a welcome energetic undercurrent beneath the pensive, often bucolic melodies. Much of this reminds of the Americana-flavored jazz of saxophonist Jeremy Udden, but louder and with a funkier edge. And it’s catchy as hell – these guys are hookmeisters.
The opening cut, Bearblade sets the scene, optimistic sax over steady distorted electric piano, its gentle pastoral melody elevated by the drums. Slave to the Cube begins more airily but ends up hitting harder, while the possibly satirical keut str8 boiz begins as a series of impossibly A.D.D. phrases anchored first by the drums and the bass and then unexpectedly coalesces to a surprise theme. A characteristically crystalline Shaiman alto intro kicks off Town, a briskly wistful jazz waltz, Watkinson maintaining the uneasy mood with his solo. Soul Crusher bookends a resolutely unresolving, funky tune with big anthemic swells, while the album’s strongest track, Tejas Drive builds from an apprehensive minor groove to a high-anxiety crescendo and a hypnotically reverberating Marantz solo.
The wary/warm dichotomy returns with Meatballs Are the Way to a Woman’s Heart (?!?), Watkinson’s steady, punchy solo contrasting with Marantz’s nebulosity. They take Bjork’s Joga from dreamland to funky stadium rock, then sandwich the poignancy of Dreamulator with a clever glockenspiel melody and variations. The most epic track here is High Society, driven by Cole’s relentless, pummeling heavyweight attack, with a surprisingly plaintive sax interlude that gives way to an artfully insistent piano/drum passage that loosens as Shaiman returns to lighten the atmosphere. The album ends with the rather dark Anthem, which barely qualifies as one: it’s the most “free” moment here, hypnotically and atmospherically making its way out of the upper registers as it finally comes together on a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek note. There’s a lot of depth and good ideas here: they’re a group to keep your eye on. By the way, in case you’re wondering what the band name might imply, “rochambeaux” is French for the game rock-paper-scissors.
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