CHUCK D'ALOIA & ART BERNSTEIN Under The Hood (ABCD)
Christmas Time Is Gears (ABCD)
by J Hunter
It's good to see Chuck D'Aloia up and around again. Earlier this year, health problems prevented him from appearing with Dave Calarco and Otto Gardner at Justin's. Aside from seeing these great musicians backing up New York saxman Jim Snidero, the night had been billed as a reunion of Nick Brignola's last band. While it would have been great to see the complete unit on stage again, it is equally great to see D'Aloia back recording with drummer Art Bernstein. They're collectively known as ABCD, and they've been busy boys, because they just released two discs simultaneously - Under the Hood, and Christmas Time is Gears.
The Gears in the latter title is a reference to Bernstein & D'Aloia's 2004 disc Gears (ABCD). The time difference makes sense, since what we have here is basically two years worth of material, between the thirteen originals on Hood and the ten holiday classics on Christmas Time. In any case, both discs are laced with old-school fusion, with tunes chock full of references and influences ranging from Larry Coryell and Pat Metheny to Jeff Beck and the venerable Jim Hall, whose name and playing style are the basis for Christmas Time's Deck The Hall.
Of the two discs, Christmas Time may be the most accessible, given the familiarity of the material. You're instantly welcomed into ABCD's holiday party with a jazzy waltz rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The tune starts out as a straight reading, and then is morphed into ABCD's vision. There is deconstruction involved on Christmas Time, but it's quite minimal: Good King Wenceslas and Joy To The World have a travelogue feel similar to early Pat Metheny Group; Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer hews to a path already cut by several Motown artists; Jingle Bells gets the NOLA Second Line treatment, inciting you to dance around your Christmas tree while Bernstein whips you up with a Bourbon Street martial beat; and Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town is a down and dirty blues, a form that appears more than once on Under The Hood.
Bernstein & D'Aloia stay away from the conceptual on Christmas Time, choosing to rely on musicianship and joy to keep you interested. Don't dismiss the concept of joy. To my mind, the joy's being squeezed out of this season one toy commercial at a time. ABCD has cooked up something for those of us who are dead tired of hearing Dominic the Donkey, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, and any number of saccharine Carpenters tunes that attack us every year at this time.
Under the Hood gets right to the mission statement of ABCD, which is to bring the bad old days of fusion back to life, and they definitely get that job done right out of the box, blasting away on the Latin-infused Launch. D'Aloia is the lead blocker, setting the head with a laser-guided electric guitar, and then taking off on it while Bernstein ratchets up the energy and the drama. While the styles and influences change throughout Hood, this performance arrangement is consistent.
Bernstein's comps and fills get more interesting with each song, as he shapes each piece's direction like a tough-love sculptor. He brings the Second Line element back on the rousing Jumbo Gumbo, proving that fun and fusion are not mutually exclusive. Jumbo is followed by L-80's, a reggae rave-up that's all fuzzed up. D'Aloia has more fun with effects that Steven Spielberg, particularly on the slasher-flick soundtrack Pumpkin Head.
These are studio recordings in every sense of the word; D'Aloia (who plays guitar and bass) and Bernstein recorded their pieces separately and the discs assembled by Rob Turchick at VIPDog Studios. This makes my teeth grate, truth to tell, because it takes out the possibility of a single organic experience (or another musical perspective) making the product a little bit better. That said, this recording approach works for Bernstein & D'Aloia. I'd really be interested to see them develop this music into a live act with a full band, because this music needs to be heard outside of an individual sound system. In the meantime, I'm glad ABCD is making music again, though next time a single CD will be more than enough.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.