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Gaetano Letizia, Mike Clark and Wilbur Krebs – Froggy and the Toads [TrackList follows] – Letizia Music – self

Gaetano Letizia, Mike Clark and Wilbur Krebs – Froggy and the Toads [TrackList follows] – Letizia Music – self – 888295300001, 51:07 [9/4/15] ***1/2:

(Gaetano Letizia – guitar, producer; Mike Clark – drums; Wilbur Krebs – electric bass)

This is a hopping funk/soul jazz date. Guitarist/producer Gaetano Letizia, drummer Mike Clark and bassist Wilbur Krebs have some fun on Letizia’s tenth release as a leader, Froggy & the Toads, and they establish some amphibious affection into this jazz trio outing. This 51-minute album is stuffed with soulful jazz as well as blues, R’nB, funk and fusion undercurrents. And there’s a whimsical whiff as well, shown through the CD artwork, the title (Froggy & the Toads) and the names of the tunes, such as the ultra-groove-oriented opening track, the aptly-called “Toad Funk,” one of nine Letizia compositions.

Letizia says, “The idea behind naming it ‘Froggy & the Toads’ has to do with wanting to do something different and have fun with it. I picked two musicians who are equally comfortable in jazz or funk and have personalities fitting the lighthearted, almost rebellious approach.” Letizia chose his trio well. Clark is famous for his stint in Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters in the 1970s and when the group reunited in the 2000s; Clark has furthermore worked with Vince Guaraldi, Eddie Henderson and Jeff Barone. Krebs has done various jazz engagements, and has been on stage with the jam band, RatDog, run by the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir.

Letizia’s electric guitar style is influenced by numerous artists, from jazz stalwarts such as Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green to classic soul/rock musicians such as James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic. While the overall inspirations are broad, Clark, Krebs and Letizia provide a singular sound which showcases the threesome’s cohesive communication and context. Throughout, Letizia is impressive, with fluid and articulate lines; spirited chords; and both rhythmic and solo six-string sizzle. During the funky “Frog Tacos,” he delivers speckled, chicken-scratch riffs which illustrate his ability to perform lead and rhythm guitar at the same time. There’s also a stylish, straightforward jazz methodology on “Toad Kisses,” which includes a cymbal-inflected Clark drum solo. Letizia helps put a modern twist to the beat-driven “Hip Hoppin’ Back to You,” where he balances sharply-honed harmonies with progressively powerful chords, and presents a rock-tinged slant. The fusion-etched “Toad Girls,” on the other hand, has Letizia’s Montgomery-esque chordal theme coupled with scorching, single-note soloing. The track’s fusion stance is further maintained when Krebs furnishes a Stanley Clarke-ish bass improvisation which is all groove.

Some pieces have a ‘70s vibe which evokes archetypal rock and soul. For example, Letizia brings in a wah-wah pedal on the grooving “Let Me Hop You Baby,” which pulses with a solid, tight beat. His guitar is up-front while the electric bass and the drums lock in to support a vintage tempo straight out of the Return to Forever glory days. Meanwhile, “I Love Flies” has a hard-charging bite with propulsive call-and-response guitar. Krebs takes some time to solo when Letizia turns to rhythm guitar backing; and Clark supplies a searing backbeat. Clark is an adept drummer, who knows how to contribute punctuated percussive elements but is also a heady improviser when given the opportunity, which he gets on the third half of the ten-minute closer, “Big Voodoo Daddy Toad,” an exciting, extended blues jam which has lots of space for everyone to solo. During this epic effort, Letizia exhibits his talent at cutting loose with snappy blues licks, and Krebs, too, is radiant on his deep bass.

TrackList: Toad Funk; Toad Girls; Let Me Hop You Baby; I Love Flies; Frog Tacos; Froglodyte; Toad Kisses; Hip Hoppin’ Back to You; Big Voodoo Daddy Toad.

—Doug Simpson

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