Wickedly Fun, Adrenalizing Sounds from the Puppeteers
The Puppeteers‘ debut album is packed with the kind of fun you would expect a bunch of guys to be having at their local. Which is where the band came together, and where they got their name, from the now-defunct South Slope, Brooklyn jazz bar. The ringleaders of the band are polymath pianist Arturo O’Farrill and Jazz Passengers vibraphone powerhouse Bill Ware, with Alex Blake on bass and Jaime Affoumado on drums. It’s a wild, adrenalizing, tuneful ride.
Ware sets the stage with an impossibly machineguning solo that O’Farrill just has to match, and he does, and then he leaves it to the rhythm section. That’s the lickety-split swing tune, On the Spot, that opens the album. Another tune by Blake, Jumping, puts O’Farrill in the driver’s seat, and he owns it all the way through its clenched-teeth noir swing to a crash of an ending. In Whom is a distinctive, chromatically-charged O’Farrill tune, and another blast of adrenaline from the pianist. He gets plenty of high-fives for his role leading the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, a unit that doesn’t give him as much room to cut loose and show off his blazing chops like he does here.
Ware fuels the agile, waltzing Peaceful Moment (peaceful, yeah, right!) with a tightly wound baroque-tinged intensity, O’Farrill’s sizzling righthand spirals contrasting with the minimalist bass solo and then the vibraphone-driven ballad that the song morphs into. Bio Diesel, by Ware, has a lively, bracing offcenter sway, as if to say, “We’re fueled by something weird, but it’s working.”
O’Farrill elevates Affoumado’s ballad Dreams of Dad with rapidfire, bluesy spirals that keep going even as the drums drop out: the adrenaline just won’t stop. Likewise, O’Farrill’s jackhammer lefthand propels Papo Vasquez’s Not Now Right Now up to a clever, intricate interweave of upper righthand bustle in tandem with the vibes. Then Ware’s latin-tinged Lonely Days Are Gone (a Box Tops reference) contrasts O’Farrill’s spins and dips with Ware’s tersely swinging lines. They wind up the album with another Ware tune, The Right Time, with a similar dichotomy, Ware playing voice of reason to O’Farrill’s cyclotron pyrotechnics. Has the word “adrenaline” appeared here yet?
A word about the venue the band takes their name from: wrong place, wrong time. Situated about equidistant from Barbes and I-Beam (and now Shapeshifter Lab), Puppets had good sound, great food and the best veggie burger beyond the outskirts of Rastafarian Crown Heights. But they were never able to catch on with the youngish crowd that comes out to I-Beam for cutting-edge sounds and the latin-inclined acts favored at Barbes – or with an older neighborhood crowd that might have been into Puppets’ more oldschool postbop acts. Charging more of a cover than their neighbors probably had something to do with that too. Until tourists other than those who live there start to make the South Slope a destination – or the neighborhood is taken over completely by a Wall Street crowd – would-be impresarios should take notice.
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