It almost seems quaint and cliché in this day of seemingly instantaneous worldwide connections to say that music is a universal language capable of breaking down barriers and building friendship and understanding among people. But when you think about it, a good reason why it’s become cliché is because it is still fundamentally true.
Take the eponymous debut disc of Burning Gums, a “new” jazz trio comprised of players whose individual accomplishments read like a lifetime of playing every single style of music the world has ever known. First, there’s Ron Jackson, a guitarist, composer and arranger who’s currently based out of New York but has performed with artists as diverse as Taj Mahal, Cissy Houston, Rufus Reid, Larry Coryell, David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness, the Boys Choir of Harlem and Little Anthony and the Imperials, just to name a few. And literally, it is just a few of the many music icons he’s worked with.
Then you’ve got Norbert Marius, a bassist from Hungary who’s studied at the Bela Bartok Jazz Conservatory in Budapest and has played with the likes of Melba Moore, the Fifth Dimension, Arturo Tappin and Mister Mister’s John Lang.
Finally, add Japan’s Matsuura Hiroyuki on drums and percussion, who has worked with jazz greats like Marc Cary, hip-hop stars The Roots, reggae legend Milton Henry and even the Ivory Coast’s Sekouba Diakite.
Actually, to list all the musicians and musical styles of each of these three accomplished players would take more than a dozen pages! But the cool thing is that you can hear how it all comes together on their debut CD.
Burning Gums kicks off with Norbert Marius’ “Samba de Queijo,” a classic take on a classic style which gives each member of the band a chance to shine and only hints at the delights to come. Jackson’s following offering, “Excerpt of Tina III” might remind you a bit of Weather Report, especially in the exciting interplay between guitar and bass.
Things then get downright funky with Marius’ arrangement of Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe,” and then breathtakingly beautiful with “Sacred Love,” which while written by Jackson, demonstrates how each member of the group feeds off of and then gives back to the others. The interweaving of the drums and bass under the guitar provides a tangible energy.
And it gets truly great with “Going Bush,” a percolating Afro-Caribbean tune of Jackson’s that is so infectious that you can’t not get up and dance to it. It is so light and delightful and ends far too quickly.
The trio then pay tribute to Miles Davis with a Marius arrangement of “So What,” complete with hauntingly melodic guitar, amazing grooving bass and compelling (and propelling) drums.
Two more pieces of Marius follow – first “Mangrove DoReMi” an evocative piece where the bass sets the stage with a wonderfully melodic line, played against chirping birds. I know that sounds a bit silly but it truly works! The angular guitar creates an arresting counterpoint to the bass while the drums lock everyone and everything – musician and birds – together. The second piece, a sort of bebop bossa nova called “Madras Parallel features a wonderful solo from Matsuura.
The CD concludes with Jackson’s “Park Slope,” an eerie and moving piece that seems to walk you right down the streets of New York. As you tag along with the band you shift from the strange to the delightful, occasionally stopping to examine an interesting shadow or alleyway before moving on again.
Burning Gums, like all good albums, will present something new to you with each listen. And you’ll keep going back to find more.