Bernie Mora (guitar) and Tangent – Transformation – Rhombus

Ready to “funk you up.”

Bernie Mora and Tangent – Transformation [TrackList follows] – Rhombus RHO 7133, 44:22 [6/3/16] ***1/2:

(Bernie Mora – guitar, producer; Doc Anthony – drums; Robert Vance – bass; Doug Webb – saxophone; Corey Allen – keyboards; Lee Thornburg – horns; Charles Godfrey – percussion; Brian Bromberg – fretless and upright bass (track 9))

Guitarist Bernie Mora loves rock and funk. Mora—with his seven-piece ensemble dubbed Tangent—showcases an insistent exuberance on the 44-minute Transformation, Mora’s third release on the Rhombus label. Mora’s nine originals (including a few co-writes) are a mostly hard-charging foray through guitar-led and horn-fronted groove and rock which offers rambunctious music for jazz fans who listen to bands such as Tower of Power, the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham and similar artists.

Mora and Tangent come out of the gate with a solid, two-punch attack. The meaty and melodic “Chump Change” is like Spyro Gyra taken to an uncoupled extreme, and features Doug Webb’s powerhouse tenor sax. He’s played and recorded with such notables as Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Clarke, and his chops are formidable on this upfront piece. Mora doesn’t hold back one iota, and showing Prince is at least one influence. “You Betcha” is comparable to the aforementioned Brecker Brothers, particularly in the heady two-horn drive of Webb and trumpeter Lee Thornburg (who spent time in Tower of Power and Supertramp). Mora again supplies a blaring rock-inclined guitar solo more akin to ‘70s rock music than jazz fusion. By a far margin, the most rock-oriented cut is the authoritative “Psychopants,” credited to Mora, drummer Doc Anthony and bassist Robert Vance. The guitar/drums/electric bass triad thrash out some forceful interaction. Webb throws in a blazing tenor sax solo, but it’s Mora’s mid-section guitar (with distortion and effects) which pumps this tune into the stratosphere. Play this for rock music fans who say they dislike jazz and see what happens. Mora, Anthony and Vance also co-penned the mid-tempo, clement “Take That,” a soulful composition which highlights Webb’s tenor sax, and Corey Allen’s cadenced acoustic piano contributions (he spins a slight taste of Latin jazz into his solo spotlight). Vance also adds a groove-laced electric bass improvisation.

Mora knows when to switch things up. There’s a deceleration on the mariachi-tinted “For Crying Out Loud,” which includes a slowly searing Webb sax solo. He’s fiery but understands how to not force his virtuosity onto listeners. Mora provides a rock music component with his scorching guitar pyrotechnics, at times bringing to mind Jimi Hendrix, one of his other guitar heroes. Things ebb further on the quiet, late-night number, the aptly-named “Whisper.” Webb shifts to a sweet soprano sax, while percussionist Charles Godfrey furnishes some fluid percussive elements. There’s some warm harmonic interplay between the soprano sax (which evokes Grover Washington, Jr.) and Mora’s understated guitar, which gives “Whisper” a temperate slant.

The CD concludes with special guest, bassist Brian Bromberg, on the lightly swinging “Take Me Away,” co-composed by Bromberg and Mora. Bromberg uses overdubbed fretless and upright bass and displays his long-standing ability to perform both the bass line and melody. Mora mostly sits back with rhythmic acoustic guitar support, but comes up with an appetizing electric guitar excursion at the end. “Take Me Away” is very much a Bromberg presentation and must-hear for Bromberg listeners. On the whole, Transformation is a well-made but sometimes somewhat conventional offering in the jazz-rock and jazz-funk realm. Mora has crafted material which is appealing and energetic, but doesn’t break the mold. For most people who will want to listen to this album, that means Mora’s music is exactly what it should be.

TrackList: Chump Change; You Betcha; Blue Moon Funk; For Cryin’ Out Loud; Take That; Whisper; Reckless; Psychopants; Take Me Away.

—Doug Simpson

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