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Shredding ecstasy

Morrie Louden - Timepiece
(MoSound Productions)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 25, 2007
Morrie Louden

Review by Brad Walseth

From the opening strains of "Gypsy's Dream," you know that you are in for an exciting listening experience in bassist Morrie Louden's Timepiece. Mysterious strings arranged by Gil Goldstein haunt the landscape in which Louden, and Bob Sheppard on tenor sax play intensely emotive solos. Meant to be a musical version of the life's journey of a nomad wandering the desert - the song succeeds nearly to a level of epiphonous transcendence. Yet this is only the opening salvo in what is a truly remarkable recording.

"Verbatim" kicks into high gear with a quartet setting playing some burning hard bop. While Louden walks his bass like he is in a speed walking race, Adam Nussbaum keeps the drive paced with some tasty drumming. Edward Simon's expressive piano flights are a delight as always, and Louden's solo is sheer shredding ecstasy.

Setting a pattern of moving amongst song styles, Louden's "Insensatez" follows. This lovely Brazilian flavored number is enhanced by West African guitarist Lionel Loueke, percussionist Nanny Assis, and the ubiquitous Alex Sipiagin on flugelhorn. Mike Eckroth plays a lovely piano solo, but it is vocalist Gretchen Parlato who steals the show (as she did on Francis Jacob's latest album as well). If you haven't yet heard Parlato, you will soon. This young woman may be the vocalist most poised to take the Brazilian genre into the future.

Most artists would be satisfied with what has been presented so far, but Louden continues the recording with songs featuring strong themes, thoughtful arrangements and inspired playing. "624 Main St." is an absolute burner, with Louden's Stanley Clarke-ish acoustic bass work nearly unbelievable. Gary Novak is all over his drum kit, and Seamus Blake plays some killer tenor riffs, but it is bandleader Louden whose marathon exercise in stamina shows why he is considered perhaps THE bassplayer in jazz to watch out for.

"Supposition" is a nice moody composition inspired by Mancini, with Sipiagin and Simon complementing each other nicely, before the centerpiece of the album - the title track - kicks in. "Timepiece," the song is a stunning 9:05 magnum opus that reminds me some of an early '70's Return to Forever or Stanley Clarke composition. Simon's piano provides the framework, while Sheppard's soprano sax adds a new and welcome element. Louden again solos with aplomb, and again Gil Goldstein's string arrangements shine over Louden's intelligent and mature songwriting.

Nor is Goldstein merely a string arranger - his horn arrangement on the next tune of Mo's, or "Tunamo," adds a sense of freshness and fun to what generally has been a pretty serious musical presentation. The arrangement on this Latin big band piece reminds me somewhat of Gary McFarland's work with Brookmeyer, Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz in the '60s. George Flynn's bass trombone rumbles and Oriente Lopez brings his dancing, Herbie Mann-style flute to the party. And the fun never ends, as Parlato is brought back on another South American-styled piece - "A Rosa."

"Mr. Frump" is more good fun and interesting writing, and Louden tweaks a well-known tycoon who hopefully will never get the chance to say "You're fired!" to this band. Another south of the border inspired number - "Majique" ends the recording. Here the merging of Lopez's flute with Parlato's wordless vocals creates the impression of birdsong.

As a tribute to the artists who inspired him, like Chick Corea, Henry Mancini, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Morrie Louden succeeds brilliantly. Timepiece is filled with exceptional compositions, intelligent and captivating arrangements, and flat-out playing that will knock you out!

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