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 Friday, 27 March 2015
John Beasley, “Positootly” One of the Best of the Year (2009, Resonance Records) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Sunday, 02 January 2011

ImageThis late 2009 release has appeared on some Best of 2010 lists and garnered a 2010 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Album, so I feel justified referring to it as one of the most energetic recordings of the past year. If John Beasley's name is not readily recognized, his work should be, with performance credits that include Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Christian McBride, Chaka Khan, and James Brown; he’s served as Musical Director for Grammy winners Steely Dan, Queen Latifah and AR Rahman; arranger for American Idol and The Tonight Show and composer for TV series, Star Trek, Cheers and Fame.  On his ninth recording as leader, Beasley brings together a formidable cast, with Bennie Maupin on tenor and soprano sax, Brian Lynch on trumpet, James Genus on bass, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. Seven of the pianist’s compositions are showcased here, along with three diverse covers of Jobim, Piazzolla, and Bobby Timmons. 

The frenetic energy of a salsa band tamed by Beasley’s compositional chops and the driving hard bop of his teammates mark the original opening “Caddo Bayou,” Lynch and Maupin shining solo and together, while a joyous bounce from just the rhythm section defines the leader’s title tune. Jobim’s “Dindi” take a calmer, more angular turn as Beasley and Genus weave together stunning choppy lines, Watts bathing it all in a shimmery summer haze. Beasley pays his respects to the great Elvin Jones on “Black Thunder,” an orchestral track that rotates the spotlight across the band, from Lynch’s sparkling trumpet solo to the pianist’s own keyboard criss-cross to Maupin’s tenor workout, all buoyed by Watts’ own “thunder.” 

Beasley’s “Shatita Boom Boom (Club Desire)” sways all the way, the pianist seemingly combining funk, samba and hard bop into New Orleans voodoo swing, naming this tune for the 9th Ward club devastated by Katrina. Piazzolla’s tango classic, “Tanguedia III,” is reimagined with funk elements provided by Beasley’s Fender Rhodes and synthesized organ as well as acoustic piano, Watts here adding some darkly devastating pulsations that further fracture the rhythm. Tango in outer space? 

Beasley wrote the exquisite “Elle” for his wife, performed as a quartet featuring Maupin’s oozing soprano, Genus here on electric bass which surprisingly fits perfectly, adding a bluesy undertow. That undertow becomes funky on the Bobby Timmon’s classic “So Tired,” Beasley again swinging darkly on Rhodes while Maupin mixes it up on tenor. On his own “Eight Winds,” Beasley enlists Brian Lynch’s muted trumpet to provide a counter to his more frenzied and dazzling keyboard adventures, melding a Latin rhythm to a hard boppin’ double-time with some quirky change-ups. The pianist closes the set on his own, “Hope…Arkansas” referring to his mother’s birthplace and his reflections on O’Bama’s election. It’s lush, cerebral, and ultimately hopeful.  

“Positootly” accurately sums the spirit of this Grammy-nominated disc.

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