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marbin13

TRACKLISTING:
1. Blue Fingers (3:09)
2. Inner Monologue (4:34)
3. Breaking the Cycle (4:15)
4. On the Square (4:24)
5. Café De Nuit (2:32)
6. Redline (5:21)
7. Volta (4:17)
8. The Ballad of Daniel White (4:31)
9. Down Goes the Day (2:02)
10. The Way to Riches (3:21)
11. And the Night Gave Nothing  (2:48)
12. Purple Fiddle  (4:46)
13. Last Day of August  (5:01)
14. Last Chapter of Dreaming  (3:46)

LINEUP:
Danny Markovitch – saxophone, keyboards (5, 14)
Dani Rabin – guitar
Justyn Lawrence – drums (except for 2, 5, 10)
Jae Gentile – bass (except for 5, 10)

With:
Paul Wertico – drums (2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12)
Steve Rodby – bass (5, 10, 14)
Zohar Fresco – percussion (3, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Jamey Haddad – percussion (2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12)
Victor Garcia – trumpet (3, 12)
Matt Nelson – keyboards (4, 5, 6, 8, 13)
Rob Clearfield – keyboards (14)
Greg Spero – keyboards (14)
Leslie Beukelman – vocals (3, 5, 12, 14)
Jabari Rayford – vocals (12, 14)
Abraha Rayford – vocals (12, 14)
Caleb Willitz – vocals (3, 12, 14)
Justin Ruff – vocals (3)

Chicago-based band Marbin, founded in 2007 by Israeli-born Dani Rabin (guitar) and Danny Markovitch (saxophone), and cleverly named by conflating their two surnames, have the distinction of being one of the busiest outfits on the current non-mainstream music scene. Indeed, with hundred of gigs a year under their belt, they have even found the time to produce a video tutorial on “How to Make a Living Touring With Your Band”. Though Marbin started out as a duo, independently releasing their self-titled debut in 2009, by the time they were snapped up by Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records (which released their sophomore effort, Breaking the Cycle, in 2011), they had become a full-fledged band, a quartet that availed itself of the collaboration of two experienced jazz-fusion musicians such as Pat Metheny alumni Paul Wertico (drums) and Steve Rodby (bass).

Two years later, Marbin are back with Last Chapter of Dreaming, recorded with drummer Justyn Lawrence and bassist Jae Gentile, who have been part of Marbin’s live incarnation since 2008, plus a host of other musicians. Wertico and Rodby are still on board as special guests, together with percussionist Jamey Haddad, who was also present on Breaking the Cycle. Among the rather lengthy list of collaborators, prog fans will recognize the name of District 97 keyboardist Rob Clearfield, who guests on one track.

Though the album is very much a team effort, very cohesive from an instrumental point of view, Rabin’s guitar and Markovitch’s sax steal the show with their scintillating interplay, denoting the ease that comes from a long partnership coupled with the sheer enjoyment of music-making. Unlike the band’s previous effort, which featured a traditional song, on Last Chapter of Dreaming vocals appear only in the shape of wordless vocalizing; while the addition of other drummers and percussionists lends an appealing sense of dynamics to the two mainmen’s exertions. The final product is a very sophisticated mix of rock, jazz and blues with hints of world music, though in some ways not as successful as the band’s previous two albums.

Especially if compared to Marbin’s debut – an exquisitely minimalistic production that made the most of Rabin and Markovitch’s impressive skills – Last Chapter of Dreaming, at least in part, takes a sharp turn in a more mainstream direction, a trend that had already surfaced in some episodes of Breaking the Cycle, though not as noticeably as here. In particular, the handful of tracks featuring vocals veer dangerously close to easy listening. While “Breaking the Cycle” (oddly enough, not featured on the album of the same title) is given a dramatic, cinematic sweep by Victor Garcia’s wistful trumpet, the airy, lullaby-like “Café de Nuit” oozes a nostalgic Old-World feel, and both “Purple Fiddle” and the title-track – with their slow, laid-back vibe – put me in mind of a slightly cheesy soundtrack for some European Seventies movie.

The more rock-oriented tracks see Marbin at their best, such as pyrotechnic opener “Blue Fingers” with its assertive, metal-tinged riffing and energetic sax, the brisk, Hammond-laced “On the Square”, and the jazzy rock’n’roll workout of “Redline” (also enhanced by discreet Hammond organ). The exhilarating “Volta”, shifting from a melodic, laid-back mood to frantic, riff-laden bursts of energy complemented by a Morricone-influenced cinematic grandiosity, is one of the undisputed highlights of the whole album – as is the subdued “The Ballad of Daniel White”, showcasing Justyn Lawrence’s superb drumming.

With 14 rather short tracks spread over 55 minutes, Last Chapter of Dreaming avoids overstaying its welcome as other, more ambitious albums do, though some of the tracks might have been omitted without too much detriment. Though a classy offering, flawlessly performed by a group of outstanding musicians, it is not as organic as its predecessor, and flirts a bit too closely with smooth jazz to find favour with lovers of the more challenging fare generally released by Moonjune Records. The album makes nevertheless for a very pleasing listening experience, and a special mention is deserved by the stunning cover artwork, courtesy of Portland-based artist Brin Levinson (also responsible for the cover of Breaking the Cycle, as well as Dissonati’s debut Reductio Ad Absurdum).

Links:
http://marbinmusic.com/

http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/catalog_mjr/050_MARBIN_Last-Chapter-of-Dreaming_MJR050/

http://www.youtube.com/user/marbinmusic

http://brinlevinson.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Loopy (5.59)
2. A Serious Man (3.49)
3. Mom’s Song (2.05)
4. Bar Stomp (3.04)
5. Outdoor Revolution (3.08)
6. Western Sky (2.12)
7. Burning Match (5.11)
8. Claire’s Indigo (2.11)
9. Snufkin (2.48)
10. Old Silhouette (4.12)
11. Winds of Grace (8.39)

LINEUP:
Dani Rabin – guitar
Danny Markovitch – saxophone
Steve Rodby – bass
Paul Wertico – drums, percussion (1, 8)

With:
Jamey Haddad – percussion (2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10)
Matt Davidson – vocals (3, 6)
Leslie Beukelman – vocals (3, 6)
Makaya McCraven – drums (4)
Daniel White – lyrics, vocals (11)

Marbin’s eponymous debut came to my attention towards the end of 2009, soon after its release. Even if the duo formed by two young, talented Israeli-born musicians who had recently moved to Chicago was an unknown quantity to me and most other reviewers, the album’s endearingly naïve artwork and intriguing musical offer were enough to warrant closer scrutiny. With a name cleverly fashioned out of the surnames of the two artists (Danny MARkovitch and Dani RaBIN), Marbin made their debut on the US music scene with an album full of intriguing melodies crafted with ony two instruments – Rabin’s guitar and Markovitch’s saxophone – characterised by an ethereal, almost brittle quality, reminiscent of the delicacy of Far Eastern art, complex yet at the same time not too taxing for the listener.

The year 2010 marked a veritable quantum leap for Marbin (very active on the live front in the Chicago area), when they came under the radar of MoonJune Records’ mainman Leonardo Pavkovic, a man with a keen eye for new acts of outstanding quality. Promptly snapped up by the New York-based label, Marbin – who in the meantime had become a real band, with the addition of  Pat Metheny alumni Steve Rodby (bass) and Paul Wertico (drums) – released their second album at the beginning of 2011.

Breaking the Cycle is indeed an impressive effort, which sees the band build upon the foundation laid by their debut, while fine-tuning their sound and adding layers of complexity, though without making things unnecessarily convoluted. Indeed, rather interestingly, a fellow reviewer used the term ‘easy listening’ in connection to the album –  a definition that may conjure images of that openly commercial subgenre known as smooth jazz. However, while Breaking the Cycle does have plenty of smoothness and melody, I would certainly never call it background music. The presence of a full-blown rhythm section has given a boost to the ambient-tinged, chamber-like atmosphere of the debut, and some of the tracks display a more than satisfying level of energy and dynamics, all the while keeping true to the deeper nature of their sound.

Clocking in at slightly over 40 minutes, Breaking the Cycle immediately appears as a supremely sophisticated effort, starting from the striking cover artwork whose mix of the industrial (the bridge on the front cover) and the natural (the elephant on the back cover) seems to reflect the nature of the music itself. While the majority of the tracks lean towards the slower, more atmospheric side of things, delivered in a rather short, somewhat compact format, the album is bookended by two numbers that differ quite sharply from the rest, as well as from each other. Opener “Loopy” is the closest Marbin get to a ‘conventional’ jazz-fusion sound, almost 6 minutes of sax and guitar emoting over an exhilarating jungle beat laid down by Wertico’s drums and percussion that gives a first taste of the seamless interplay between the instruments. On the other hand, the medieval-tinged, acoustic folk ballad “Winds of Grace”, masterfully interpreted by guest singer Daniel White (who also wrote the lyrics), though apparently out of place in the context of the album,  is imbued with a feeling of nostalgia and loss suggested by several other tracks.

Indeed, the three numbers that form the central section of the album might almost be considered as parts of a single suite, since they are characterized by a wistful, romantic (though anything but cheesy) mood. An extended sax solo is the real showstopper in “Outdoor Revolution”, while wordless vocalizing enhances the country-tinged acoustic guitar in “Western Sky”. “Burning Match” seems to reflect its title almost perfectly, its smouldering atmosphere touched with a hint of sadness, the yearning tone of the sax suggesting the end of a love affair. A strong visual element is evoked throughout the album: “Old Silhouette” creates a faintly mysterious picture, yet full of subtle warmth intensified by the slow, deep movement of the percussion; while the sweet, soothing chanting in “Mom’s Song”, combined with the gentleness of the guitar, brought to my mind images of a beach at sunset. In sharp contrast, “Bar Stomp” delivers exactly what the title promises – a bluesy, electrified romp with Rabin’s guitar taking centre stage, bolstered by an imposing percussive apparatus involving the presence of three drummers (Wertico plus guests Makaya McCraven and Jamey Haddad), and spiced up with a hint of cinematic tension.

The final remarks I made in my review of Boris Savoldelli’s Biocosmopolitan may also apply to Breaking the Cycle. Oozing sheer class, with outstanding performances all round, yet plenty of warmth and accessibility (unlike a lot of hyper-technical albums), this is a release that has the potential to appeal to anyone who loves good music and does not care about sticking a label on anything they hear. Judging from the positive reactions to this album, Marbin are definitely going to be another asset for the ever-reliable MoonJune Records.

Links:
http://www.marbinmusic.com

http://www.moonjune.com

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