JOHN MENEGON - Soul Advice (MAKI)
by J Hunter
Times ain't now like they used to be. For instance, one of my best friends recently emailed me the news that Blue Note had not only given a recording contract to singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega (Remember Luka - the last time child abuse made the Top 10?), but they'd also dropped challenging saxman Greg Osby from their artist roster.
My response was, in effect, That's the way it is. But I also pointed out that getting the pink slip might be the best thing that could happen to Osby, because the best jazz nowadays is coming from small labels - Ben Allison and Bill Mays with Palmetto, Christian McBride and Charlie Hunter with Ropeadope - or from labels the artists set up themselves, as Dave Douglas did with Greenleaf Music.
Take bass player John Menegon, for instance. His latest disc, Soul Advice, is undeniable proof the good stuff is happening far, far from corporations and their focus groups, tracking software, and their fervent desire to prove there's more multi-platinum sales in them thar hills for jazz
provided it doesn't really sound like jazz, of course. ('Luka' with saxophones
Yeah, that's the ticket! Somebody get Candi Dulfer on the phone!)
It makes sense Menegon closes Soul Advice with the classic Monk's Mood, since the originals that come before it share Monk's love for the off-kilter, with writing and playing that is not tied to traditional time signatures or chord progressions. This sense of musical mission is both palpable and enjoyable from the first chords of the opener, the Menegon composition Boo Bop Bass. You get the same feeling from this unbalanced blues that I got from the John Menegon Quintet's first notes at this year's Kingston International Jazz Festival: This is gonna be big fun!
While Menegon takes the first solo on Boo Bop, this isn't a constant, even on his other compositions. If anything, it seems Menegon's preferred role is to form up with always-interesting multi-percussionist Tami Tabbal to provide a foundation for the music to play out properly. Menegon's writing continues to impress as the disc goes on - particularly the title track, which starts out contemplative and builds in force as its message takes hold: This is temporary; this is transitory. Tomorrow will be different; tomorrow will be better.
While Tabbal can certainly drop the bomb when called for, the West African is at his best when he is at his most subtle, as with his cymbal work on the bouncing Mark Dziuba tune Mr. PZ. Dziuba's fuzz-coated guitar is the disc's primary delivery system for musical revolution. His Mobile Infirmary is the kind of traveling music made standard by the original Pat Metheny Group, except instead of Metheny's airy, effects-driven synth-guitar, Dziuba's driving buzz makes the song's framework more lively and imaginative, with harmonies as dark & inviting as Swiss chocolate.
Colorado resident John Gunther contributes fine, smoky reedwork to the proceedings, particularly on his own That Groove, where he uses bass clarinet to set the central figure. When Gunther's tenor mixes with John diMartino's old-school piano, Menegon's In Sea On Land becomes a modern film noir soundtrack. Although diMartino's work on piano is enduring all the way through, his hopping organ on Boo Bop Bass could have easily replaced the piano on Monk's Mood to take the labyrinthine standard even further over the edge.
I heard most of this music in concert before Teri Roiger gave me a copy of Soul Advice. Instead of one experience canceling out the other, the studio recording successfully lays out Menegon's ideas while leaving plenty of room for expansion in the live setting. This is the kind of thing Verve and Blue Note used to do before they started worshipping the mighty music video. Those days of exploration still live, thanks to independent artists like John Menegon. And that's the way it should be.
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.