Review - Ethan Mann - 'It's All About A Groove'

Note: This review originally appeared on EJazzNews

Ethan Mann, It’s All About A Groove (2010 Petunia Records)

For Ethan Mann, it most definitely and unmistakably is all about a groove – locked in, propulsive, and subtly swinging.  The guitarist’s most recent release, It’s All About A Groove, finds Mann working with drummer Greg Bandy and keyboardist Chip Crawford, in a studio version of the same group you might have caught some Saturday night at Jules Bistro in the East Village, NY NY.  These jazzmen have over 60 years worth of gigging between them, especially notably Bandy, who’s been ratamaflamming and other drum-type activities since 1964.

From the first note of the opening track, “Foxy,” and hard-swinging midtempo Mann original, it’s clear that these three musicians have also been playing together for some time.  Their sense of dynamics and group transition is outstanding, with Bandy demonstrating the clear intention of collaboration with Mann and Crawford, highlighting aspects of their playing without pulling too much attention to the drums.  It’s a good opening number, one to get the listener excited about the rest of the show.  The Latin-tinged “What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life?” a Michael Legrand song, presents some bubbling synthesizer work from Crawford that supports a brisk series of runs from Mann, then bursts out into its own enthusiastic solo.  These two numbers, one groovy and the other sleek, present the two musical points that the album moves between.

Next up are a trio of tunes from the Philly soul group The Stylistics, “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “People Make the World Go Round,” and “Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart.”  The first is a very sweet rendition of the ballad, and the second finds a surprisingly heavy groove despite its poignant melody, but “Stop, Look, and Listen” is easily the best of the three. Featuring Crawford back on the organ and Mann playing the opening lick in Wes Montgomery parallel octaves, this last Stylistics song gives all three musicians a chance to swing hard, and we are treated to some of Bandy’s best drumming on this track.

Two blues numbers drop down next.  “Woman Please,” written and narrated by Bandy, puts forward a bluesy vamp over which the drummer laments being torn between loving his lady and playing his music.  What’s a guy to do?  Laugh a little at this over-the-top number.  The pace picks up greatly with another Mann composition, “Blues For Now,” a blues to be sure, but fast and angular, with one of Crawford’s best solos and Bandy’s earnest efforts to propel the song forward and kick the energy level higher and higher.

Mann’s trio has done well in choosing songs that are a little off the beaten path, and that continues with, “The Look of Love” the Burt Bacharach tune from the James Bond filmCasino Royale – the 1966 film, not the 2006 one.  Peter Sellers, not Daniel Craig.  The agreeable take on this tune makes way for Crawford’s composition, “Minor Steps” (based on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps), which no doubt was a challenge to write and must be a challenge to play.  Both Mann and Crawford do the melody justice and navigate their way through the changes ably and emerge unscathed.

As a solo guitarist, Mann plays such a lyrical and beautiful rendition of the Rainger/Robin song, “Easy Living,” one almost wishes he’d recorded a few more of just him alone with his instrument.  The second time through the bridge of the song, Mann displays some outstanding movement on the low strings while comping on the upper end.  And, closing the album on a high, the band returns to the classic organ trio configuration from the Schwartz/Deitz  tune “You And The Night And The Music,” which charges along with plenty of fire and imagination.  The closing minute of the last track, in which none of the musicians appear to want to let go of the tune – but ultimately do --  is a rousing show-stopper.

It’s All About A Groove is straightforward, swinging, and presents three thoroughly professional jazzmen in top form.  More than most albums, this one will make you feel like you’re sitting in the club on a Saturday night, sipping on the second of your two-drink minimum, soaking up the atmosphere.  The night is young, everyone is good-looking and witty, and you have cab fare home.  With Ethan Mann and his crew taking care of the music, you’ll definitely want to stay and listen a little longer.

Ethan Mann – guitar
Chip Crawford – keyboards
Greg Bandy - drums

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