Jazz Speak,
(independent, 2003)

Blending Latin elements with those of funk, blues and a drop of rock here or there, Jazz Speak attempts to bring a modern approach to traditional (whatever that means) jazz forms. On Live, Jazz Speak offers an impressively clean recording for a live performance, unless Live was actually just recorded live in the studio -- either that or they are simply suggesting the word as a verb. Containing covers from such heavier hitters as John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter, as well as some original tunes, Jazz Speak has added yet another album suitable for the playlists of any number of bookstores and coffeehouses.

Whereas they are able to amp out energy on Shorter's "Blue Nile" and Coltrane's "Naima," other renditions such as "Speak No Evil" and "Little Sunflower"are a bit more tame (read "tame" as "dull"). The few original compositions, written by drummer Brock Woerner and by saxophonist Ryan Kauffman, have their inventive moments (particularly Kauffman's flute work on "Shenandoah"), but seldom on this record do I hear what I think of as true jazz sound. One fine time is on Woerner's "Trinidad," where the Latin spice is evident and the whole band is on the ball and stuck in the moment. Throughout, Woerner's drumming is impeccable. Other than that finale track, if any soul should shine through, be sure it is one of Kauffman's saxophones with the honors (though, I continue to wonder if that soul, aside from the occasional organ, piano or pair of vocal chords, will only be found in brass). All the while, Mike Wittrien's bass remains dutiful and Gary Wenzel's guitar stays safely in the distance. At first, for one reason or another I mistook the guitar for a Hammond and was wondering why the organ player was being so timid (all of which is to say, well, perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about anyway; but, well, you could always visit www.jazzspeak.com and check out some of their tunes for yourself).

Their website boasts that they have "enjoyed featured performances at the Berks Jazz Fest, Rehoboth Jazz Fest, Bethlehem Musik Fest, Longs Park Summer Concert Series and a steady schedule of jazz and performance clubs in various regional venues combined with corporate and private performances." So, if you happen to be an Eastern Pennsylvanian and are looking for a decent day (or night) of music, you may want to comb your local papers or websites for Jazz Speak -- that is assuming they are still around and still playing together.. As for buying Live, I'm not sure it will be worth the money when you could purchase any number of similar albums for the same price.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Kevin Shlosberg

24 November 2007

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