1. Lalli Pop
2. As Rose Rosaly
3. Born Too Late
4. Duke Ellington's Sound of Love
5. That's Right
6. Song for Joel
7. Darn that Dream
John Dworkin - guitar
Dominic Lalli - sax (1-3)
Matthew Garrison - sax (4-6)
Brett Sroka - trombone
Chris Haney - bass
Matt Dinsick - drums
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JOHN DWORKIN - Short Story
by J Hunter
Someone said, All past is prologue. Probably Shakespeare, but I can't find my Bartlett's Quotations, so we'll leave it as anonymous for the moment. At any rate, John Dworkin's latest disc, Short Story, is a disc of the present that presages a bright future. But it is deeply rooted in Dworkin's past, and that's not a bad thing.
Doc Severinson's Tonight Show Orchestra an orchestra contained some of the best jazz players on the West Coast: Besides Severinson himself (who, wardrobe issues aside, was a hell of a horn player), there was Eddie Shaughnessy, Ernie Watts, Conte Condoli and Snookie Young, to name just a few. The bass player in the band was Joel DiBartolo; he went on to become the jazz-studies director at Flagstaff's Northern Arizona University (My sister's alma mater. Go Lumberjacks!), where his Jazz Ensemble One unit included Dworkin and tenor player Dominic Lalli. DiBartolo later brought his charges to drummer Francisco Rosaly, and the four players formed regional sensation the Raging Jazz Project. Dworkin's on this coast now, but his past has come with him, and shows itself in many forms on Short Story.
First, Lalli appears on three pieces - As Rose Rosaly, Born Too Late, and the interestingly titled Lalli Pop. I'm sure you also noticed his former bandmates' names in the previous tunes; DiBartolo gets his own song with the meditative Song For Joel. None of this should be surprising after you read the liner notes, where Dworkin calls his time with the Project RJPU. In thanking his former bandmates, he says, Inviting me into your group was a precious gift. With Short Story, that gift keeps on giving.
What draws me to Dworkin is not his playing. He shows the expected influences - Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Pat Metheny (without the effects box, thank God) - and his solos are, overall, quite good. The one exception would be on That's Right, where his work can't seem to find a place in the overall scheme; it also gets lost in the mix, which could have been sharper throughout the disc. A little more volume on Matt Dinsick's drums could have given Lalli Pop some needed punch, and Chris Haney's bass solo on Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love didn't make it up front until he was half done. Come on, guys, it's a Mingus tune! Give the bass some love!
No, what draws me to Dworkin is a trait he shares with Dave Douglas: While he's a good player, he's a much, much better writer! All his compositions (which make up the lion's share of Short Story) are thoughtful, layered, and provide a wide canvas for his artists to paint pretty pictures. His best work comes when he combines Brett Sroka's trombone with Lalli on Rosaly and Born Too Late, and with Matthew Garrison on Song For Joel. Sroka's 'bone adds a deeper, almost discordant color to the disc's palate. Garrison's thick, rich tenor (which also appears on three tunes) also adds contrast, in that while Lalli's sharp-edged solos skirt the high end of the tenor, Garrison roves the bottom range, which was perfect both for the reverent tone of Joel and the wistful vibe of Sound Of Love.
As NAU and the Raging Jazz Project were prologue for Short Story, I'm hoping Short Story will be seen as prologue to the development of a great jazz composer. John Dworkin has the talent and the potential to do it, so stay tuned. I know I plan to.
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.