Jazz CD Reviews

Barry Romberg’s Random Access – Crab People – Romhog romhog

What do Paul Motian, Led Zeppelin, the South Park TV show and crustaceans have in common? They are all part of Barry Romberg’s ongoing eclectic Random Access project.

Published on January 30, 2013

Barry Romberg’s Random Access – Crab People – Romhog romhog

Barry Romberg’s Random Access – Crab People – Romhog romhog 123, (2 CDs) 53:22, 60:03 ***:

(Barry Romberg – drums, producer; Geoff Young – guitar (CD 1: all tracks; CD 2: tracks 2, 4-5); Rich Brown – electric bass (CD 1: tracks 2-5; CD 2: tracks 1, 3-4, 6); Ben Monder – guitar (CD 1: tracks 2-3, 5; CD 2: track 3); Kelly Jefferson – tenor and soprano saxophone (CD 1: tracks 1-2, 5; CD 2: tracks 2, 4-5); Kirk MacDonald – tenor saxophone (CD 2: tracks 1, 6); Ravi Naimpally – tabla and frame drum (CD 1: track 1; CD 2: tracks 2, 4-5); Kieran Overs – acoustic bass (CD 1: track 1; CD 2: tracks 3, 5); Robi Botos – keyboards (CD 2: track 1); Kevin Turcotte – trumpet (CD 1: track 5); Julian Anderson-Bowes – acoustic bass (CD 2: tracks 2, 5))

Canadian drummer Barry Romberg has an eclectic imagination. On the double-disc Crab People, the twelfth sojourn for his long-running evolving band, Random Access, Romberg and his musical allies create over 115 minutes of material which flits from fusion to free improv (more than 40 minutes of the two CDs comprises completely improvised music), and from post-bop to eerie soundscapes. Certain touchstones include Weather Report, Miles Davis’ electric period and other inspirations.

The first disc opens with “Mecca Pecca Rocks,” which is a play on words on a character from the beloved BBC children’s television program, In the Night Garden. This tune introduces Romberg’s varied musical stimulations, incorporating a shade of Indian raga courtesy of Ravi Naimpally’s tabla, excellent horn work from saxophonist Kelly Jefferson (who has spent time with another Canadian group, the Shuffle Demons) and a fusion foundation accentuated by Romberg and bassist Kieran Overs. Guitarist Geoff Young’s resonant soloing also is firmly in the fusion mode and occasionally brings to mind John Scofield. Romberg then commingles two kinds of music not often heard together: stormy Coltrane-esque jazz and Led Zeppelin’s heavy blues, on the two-part suite, “Nineteen Sixty Seven,” most likely named after the year when Coltrane passed away. Jefferson shimmers on soprano sax during the preliminary phase, where a spinning rhythmic undertow keeps things going in a circling and impressionistic style.

Then a 12/8, unhurried blues groove permeates the second segment, where the twinned guitars of Young and Ben Monder (who has participated in the Aaron Irwin Group) provide an Alan Holdsworth-meets-Jeff  Beck type vibe. There is a collective improvisational drive to “Play Electric, Think Acoustic,” dedicated to one of Romberg’s avowed heroes, Paul Motian. This track has a cerebral, abstract approach similar to what seeps through much of Motian’s compositions: there are spectral, minimalist moments coupled with dense declinations, with Romberg, Young and electric bassist Rich Brown offering a heady harmonization. Romberg ends the first record with the three-piece title track, a 15-minute excursion which integrates jazz-rock elements which echo Miroslav Vitous’ early ‘70s efforts; bop-inclined features via trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and Jefferson (on tenor sax); and a thematic connection to the animated TV show, South Park (the title refers to a notable episode which confronts conformity and stereotyping). Anyone who wants a quick master class in drum improvising, should listen to the second section, where Romberg goes all out in demonstrating his muscular but dynamic skills.

The second record follows a parallel path, with components which focus on modern jazz; English fusion (think Brand X or Bill Bruford); and quietly churning post-bop. Romberg commences with the stirring and moving “End of an Era.” The emotive suite is dedicated to Romberg’s mother and spotlights the inevitable time when aging parents unalterably decline due to progressive dementia. “End of an Era” is divided into three related subdivisions, and shifts from an autumnal beginning to a life-affirming, groove-garnished conclusion. Robi Botos (who has recorded with many artists, including Joey Defrancesco) delivers some noteworthy keyboards, alongside Kirk MacDonald’s earthy tenor sax. “Furthest Realm” is also a tribute to one of Romberg’s closest associations, a female friend who later married one of Romberg’s musical collaborators. “Furthest Realm” has a soft edge punctuated by Overs’ nimble acoustic bass and Monder’s discreet electric guitar. A trace of Indian connotations streams underneath the upbeat, Brand X-like “Retroactive,” which has a frenetic pacing. The almost ten-minute, triple-tiered suite, “Latiny on Q,” is comparable to Romberg’s other long-form works, with various portions which showcase separate musical aspects, from the icy introduction, to an idiosyncratic drums/tabla interlude; and from Young’s guitar vivacity (which evokes Brand X’s John Goodsall) to Jefferson’s tenor sax solos, which again conjure Coltrane’s spirit. Romberg and his group finish with another communal improvisation, the nearly 12-minute mini-epic, “No Turning Back,” which consists of three parts of different takes from a session which involves MacDonald, Young, Romberg and Brown: the quartet advances through several spontaneous interchanges heightened by MacDonald’s fiery sax, and then later by Young’s hard-rock guitar tone. Random Access functions as evidence that inventive fusion, despite being eclipsed by other types of jazz, is nonetheless active, and is still a going concern. While some of the longer pieces meander in spots, there are sufficient situations which arise to maintain the concentration of listeners who have an appeal for jazz which melds acoustic and electric instruments.


CD 1: Mecca Pecca Rocks; Nineteen Sixty Seven (parts 1-2); 20% Off; Play Electric, Think Acoustic; Crab People (parts 1-3).

CD 2: End of an Era (parts 1-3); 6 to the 5 to the 7 to the 9; Furthest Realm; Retroactive (Schvingy Tabla); Latiny in Q; No Turning Back.

—Doug Simpson

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