When I started sampling the tracks from the new Dave Barber “DB and the SoHo Nine-Six” CD release, the first thing that came to my mind was “finally, people are creating fusion music again with all the stuff that I love about it and leaving out all the stuff that I HATE”.
Let me be specific as to what I mean by that: I love the inventiveness and raw creativity that has existed in fusion – these days mostly in the past – where anything can happen both sonically and in terms of the musician’s performances. But I HATE when it’s either all about constant “musical bragging” about how proficient a musician is on their instrument while playing over a composition whose printed form wouldn’t even be worth wrapping fish with, or a pice of music something that SHOULD if there was truth in advertising be titled “Music For Outdoor Wine And Cheese Festivals Part 8 Million”.
But don’t worry – there’s nothing “cheesy” about DB and the SoHo Nine-Six, with strong writing and playing from everyone involved throughout:
The opener, “Flea Circus”, begins with a “sound design” type electronic funky groove punctuated by Kevin Winard’s badass drum and percussion fills. Then the tune is off to the races heading right into a cool NYC street smart angular intervallic unison line, with both the melody and saxophonist Justin Claveria calling to mind the great Michael Brecker over Barber’s muscular bass line. It didn’t surprise me to see that Barber was savvy enough to actually have a guy doing sound design on the record, the name that Hollywood has used for adding interesting audio to it’s films that is “not music, but not sound effects”, and Peter Albrechtsen does a great job with providing that dimension throughout the record.
We at JazzGuitarSociety.com first became aware of the guitarist on this record, Daniel Zimmerman, when I reviewed his very hip CDs “Drifting Home” and “Earthtones”; which anyone that is a fan of Mike Landau or Scott Henderson would love. Zimmerman represents himself very well as a “SoHo Nine-Six-er”, with things like his brooding floating “Flea Circus” solo before Claveria’s funky sax solo. One of the great things overall on this record is that the solos while still being inventive and interesting are like the perfect house guest – they never overstay their welcome and leave you looking forward to the next visit.
“Frickafumyum” is built around Dave Barber’s “funky thumbs” base groove with a strong melody line. It features a very cool “skank-city” rhythm guitar and solo from Zimmerman and the soprano sax of Claveria. The infectious funky guitar melody is doubled by Jim Mooy’s trumpet, and Daniel’s guitar solo is thoughtful and funky. I love the B section of this tune with its’ long tied whole notes, it’s a great example that simple melody doesn’t need to be dumbed down to be accessible.
At this point it would be time to change things up from the up-tempo funky, and that is what’s provided in “San Francisco”, which is dominated by the tasteful piano and synths of Chris Barron, and adding the subtle sound design of Albrechtsen again. Then “Belle Notte” is almost like a continuance of the vibe of San Francisco, but taking you to a little more exotic country, adding the trumpet section parts of Jim Mooy, and the lyrical melody bass of Anabella Barber.
“Captain Hook”, the single from the CD, begins with the ticking clock that in the Peter Pan story was in the belly of the crocodile that ate it, and the clock grooves along with the funky rhythm guitar in it’s opener. A total dance tune with fusion elements, it’s an obvious choice for radio, but there’s all kinds of little cool audio cookies along the way to set it apart from other tracks of it’s type. Right after the utterly singable melody is stated, Claveria screams a burning tenor solo, and the tune ends with its’ signature stabbing rhythmic “hook”, which may well be where the title came from.
As you enter into “Panther in the Plaza”, you suddenly find yourself in a crowd at sort of a “semi-middle Eastern market place”, and we are given a very hip Barber bass solo and great strong solo from Zimmerman. The tune winds up with a number of cool horn sections with some descending “adult chord” parts.
And what haven’t we had so far? I know, “reggae”, but here that comes with “100 Meter Mosey”. Again, there’s a great use of harmonized trumpets on the melody, with Zimmerman soloing over Jamey Scott’s reggae rhythm guitar, an excellent trumpet solo from Jim Mooy, and at the end a really great “percussion over drums” solo from Winard – you don’t usually find someone that is so good at both percussion and drum set that you can’t tell which one is their “main axe”, but I couldn’t tell which was which with his fine playing on both.
“Neighbor (won’t you be mine)” is a very simple but nice funk tune with a cool opening solo from Baron’s keyboard, turning a bit ominous in its’ bridge, which then goes to funky solos from Claveria’s sax and a strong one from Jamey Scott on guitar, who also provides the rhythm guitar as well.
The record closes with “Second Beach – A Meditation”, and Albrechtsen’s ocean sound design adds to the feeling of the last evening of a great summer vacation that you are sucking the last moments of beauty out of. Zimmerman paints a very beautiful guitar sound design himself in this one, weaving in and out of Baron’s keyboards. It takes it’s “very sweet time” meandering to it’s bittersweet dreamy drawn out end.
In closing, for a long time fusion has gotten itself such a bad rep that I frankly hesitated to even use that term to describe this record, but if we use the original general definition of “a blend of any and all forms of music in new and creative ways”, then it’s really a disservice to call it anything other than fusion. So suffice to say that hopefully Dave Barber and his SoHo Nine-Six crew are here as part of a new movement to take back fusion from the interlopers that commandeered it so long ago. But I’m sure it would be still good to listen to with wine and cheese with as well….
Nov. 17, 2023