The Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project brings together an atypical group of musicians for an eclectic range of music on Kites and Strings: a magpie collection of excellently executed pieces stretching from 1800s classical to neo-classical jazz, via Venezuelan merengue, klezmer and good old rock.
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Opening track Cedar Place sets the scene with switching lines and fast-changing tempos. There are moments of Big Band excitement bookended with a more contemporary Jazz Messengers feel. The intermittent propulsive bass line pushes through, whether from Rosenblum’s piano, Marty Jaffe’s bass, or hints of the until-now mythical driving bass clarinet.
It is a joyous sensory overload, mixing tidy, focused trumpet improvisation from Wayne Tucker and clean tenor lines from Jasper Dutz with the anachronistic accordion tone which quickly transports us somewhere significantly more rustic and Baltic than the swinging neo-bop we just left.
Title track Kites and Strings is a more restrained moment – pumped accordion chords undergird a soaring vibes line from Jake Chapman, with the occasional brass notes. The climax of the track is a statement from Rosenblum on where and how the accordion fits into the jazz scene: forced by the mechanics of the instrument, during his improvisation the notes each stand proud, independent and clipping one another leaving almost imperceptible pauses that give it a rarefied sound.
Throughout the album Rosenblum plays piano and accordion, and through modern wizardry he often commands both at the same time. However, twice he hands the piano stool to Jeremy Corren (of Joel Ross’ Good Vibes group), to great success on Motif from Brahms (op. 98) where the opportunity for direct interplay is really nicely exploited.
The album runs through many moods: classic piano show-off runs on Halfway to Wonderland, a more novelty Fight or Flight channelling clowns under duress with panicked percussion, or the interwoven harmonic changes of Laughing on the Inside. Arrangements of Neil Young and Bernstein are interesting, but the most successful development from others is the traditional Bulgarian Izpoved, a beautiful fugal lament with accordion acting in the role of both church organ and solo vox.
Rosenblum is a conscientious leader, with spot-lit solos very neatly structured: shepherded in, in very little time the instrumentalist introduces themselves and is in full swing, and is then swapped out in a very orderly fashion. In a Nebula Project line-up like this, it is also worth noting that Rosenblum is not the only band leader in attendance. Here a special mention goes to the excellent Wayne Tucker on trumpet who – from early on in the Brooklyn lockdown and still through until today – was one of the first proactive musicians to bring high quality live music back to the eager music-starved masses with his group The Bad Mothas playing regular concerts on Grand Army Plaza at the top of Prospect Park.
This isn’t a debut release for Rosenblum as a band leader, but it is a first for the Nebula Project. While the group may have drawn musicians in from many different sub-scenes to play together on an equally diverse set of pieces, Kites and Strings is anything but a nebulous thing; it is a pot-luck of pieces, but each is well thought out and presented as a shiny, finished artefact.
Categories: CD reviews