CD Vibes, Straight Up (CD 6238812),
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Vibes, Straight Up
2. Hey Good Lookin'
3. Stars Fell on Alabama
4. St. James Infirmary
5. Woody the Woodpecker Song, The
7. Old Rugged Cross, The
8. What a Difference a Day Makes
9. Wade in the Water
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 73285
Personnel: Steve Hobbs (vibraphone); Bill O'Connell (piano); John Riley (drums).
Audio Mixer: Manfred Knoop.
Recording information: Twinz Studios, River Edge, NJ (06/2009).
Arranger: Steve Hobbs.
Steve Hobbs is a new name to many jazz lovers, but has been an up-and-coming vibraphonist named in critics' polls for a long time. The New Yorker grew up in North Carolina, and he feels his somewhat Southern roots made good gravy for the basis of this project, taking rural themes into metropolitan means via swing and bop. With veteran pianist Bill O'Connell, the peerless bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Jim Reilly, Hobbs picked a series of songs with references to the lower third tier of the U.S. in order to demonstrate how the region has grown out of whatever close-minded tendencies it may have had a decade or so prior. Whether that is truly so, the music is quite attractive within the modern mainstream of jazz, and is played with a vigor of hope and positiveness, not innovative but done tastefully. A jazz version of the traditional "Shenandoah" in tender ballad form, the similarly paced "Stars Fell on Alabama" popularized by John Coltrane, and a Latin-to-swing-to-bop take of "The Old Rugged Cross" are logical choices, all well rendered melodically and pretty, familiar tunes for the ear. Picking the Hank Williams pop song "Hey, Good Lookin'" is also a sensible pick because the song is not only whimsical and lighthearted, but a bit of a suggestive tease in a down South but gentlemanly manner. Then there are tried and true jazz standards such as the bop anthem "Cherokee" done strictly straight-ahead, solid but not too terribly fast as some tend to do it, while the ultimate blues "St. James Infirmary" is in funkier New Orleans trim rather than dour and dirge-like. "Wade in the Water" -- more a pop spiritual than dregs blues -- changes up from 6/8 to 5/4 time, while the curve ball of the set is "The Woody the Woodpecker Song," in modern modal fashion in its base before Hobbs briskly plays the familiar cartoon theme. With O'Connell and Washington at the ready, the vibraphonist is loose and lubricated to give of himself in the most conveniently accessible way, sprouting improvisations based on these simple themes with no hesitation, extrapolating without inventing a new language. The accessibility of this set will surely please middle-of-the-road mainstream jazz fans with no qualms, and its high quality should also prompt listeners to seek the other fine recorded efforts by Hobbs. ~ Michael G. Nastos
Down Beat (p.84) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he band kicks it into high gear with the standard fast-paced attack on 'Cherokee.'"
JazzTimes (p.61) - "This is a first-class project that spans eras, genres and generations."
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Challenge Records CR 73285
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