Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Plunge Gets Lowdown and Fun

File this under “fun jazz.” A band whose main instruments include trombone, bass and sousaphone leaves a lot of room for comedy, and that’s exactly what New Orleans trio Plunge offer on their psychedelic, entertaining new album Tin Fish Tango. The album title evokes a submarine: the songs manuever deviously more than engaging in any kind of combat. Despite having no drums, the trio of trombonist Mark McGrain, bassist James Singleton and saxophonist Tim Green along with Tom Fitzpatrick on tenor sax and Kirk Joseph on sousaphone maintain a tight groove, and a sensibility that’s often strikingly minimalist. There are a lot of passages here featuring just one instrument, and they’re sort of the opposite of hard bop: each player seems to want to do the most with the least. Since they’re a New Orleans band, the compositions here frequently, but not always, evoke Crescent City style themes. There’s a lot of conversing, some lead-and-pitch, and frequent quotes, from the Skatalites to the Beatles, to raise the amusement factor.

The opening track, a minimalist reggae tune, is a study in divergence and convergence while the bass holds the beat steady, a device that will recur here frequently. The most traditional, and arguably best track here, is Big Bang Theory, which rather than being explosive is a jauntily catchy late 50s Miles Davis style tune: to call this the best song on the album is not to be disrespectful to the cleverness or originality of the other material here, it’s just the most cohesive and memorable cut. The aptly titled Huff-A-Round is a clinic in three-part harmony writing; Pelican Jam, one of several free improvisations here, is done as a sort of suite of miniatures, the band members taking turns introducing themes that sometimes grab hold but just as often disappear from view.

The blithe shuffle Life Lite starts out upbeat and hangs onto the groove even as it drifts off into mellowness after a tastily bright soprano sax solo from Green. He goes off on a Middle Eastern tangent on another reggae-tinged tune, Bright Side and then goes soaring and expansive on The Kroop, over Singleton’s hard-hitting bass chords. There’s also the methodically shifting segments of Love’s Wildest Talent (?!?), the artfully syncopated funk of Jougs and a blues that starts out tense and warms up fast to wind up the album. Their previous album, reviewed last year here, was good: this is even better.

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January 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Plunge – Dancing on Thin Ice

From New Orleans comes this fun, delightfully smart, somewhat minimalist trio groove jazz project. Plunge doesn’t have a drummer, so bassist James Singleton has to propel the unit by all by himself and does a great job. He swings like crazy and when he cuts loose once in awhile he’s still got a strong grip on the throttle. Composer Mark McGrain uses the full range of his trombone, judiciously, while saxophonist Tim Green adds a wise, knowing, bluesy soulfulness. What hits you right off the bat is what a good time these guys are obviously having – while they’re adding an interesting, original edge to a whole bunch of different styles, this isn’t just art for art’s sake. You can hum along to literally everything here.

The cd’s first track, Friday Night at the Top is a hypnotic groove –  Singleton runs a sinuous bass riff while Green and then McGrain prowl around. The second cut, Life of a Cipher is a slinky spy theme with a rhumba pulse – toward the end Singleton breaks out his bow and delivers some eerie funk while the horns hold down the hook. Yet another groove number, Orion Rising has Singleton walking it with effortless ease while McGrain and then Green offer completely different witness accounts of what’s going on.

On the sludgy Luminata No 257, Singleton holds it down with his bow as the horns take turns peeking up the periscope. The unabashedly silly One Man’s Machine sounds like a P-Funk b-side instrumental, the guys caught unawares messing around with the bass synthesizer. The title track is joyous, bouncy N’Awlins flavor stripped to just the basics, gets woozy and then comes out of it with a bass solo of all things. With a straight-up oldschool southern vibe, the single most striking track here is the gorgeous, pensive jazz waltz Missing Mozambique. The cd’s two concluding cuts maintain that feel, like the nucleus of a second-line band working the subtle underpinnings of what would otherwise be blazing marches. Marketed as a crossover electronic project, the effects on the album are happily limited to the occasional effects-box timbre, like the oscillation quietly swirling beneath the bass on the opening cut. There’s so much melody here that this could become very, very popular.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment