Bob DeVos – Shadow Box – American Showplace Music ASH 5922, 62:16 (Distr. by Allegro) [9/10/13] ***1/2:
(Bob DeVos – guitar; Ralph Bowen – tenor saxophone (tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9); Dan Kostelnik – Hammond B-3 organ; Steve Johns – drums
New Jersey-based guitarist Bob DeVos continues his astute combination of blues, rhythm & blues, and bop- and soul-saturated jazz on his fifth release as a leader, the hour-long Shadow Box. DeVos (the “s” is silent) grew up listening to rock and blues (B.B. King and Chuck Berry were early heroes), and later gravitated to jazz (Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino and Kenny Burrell were some of DeVos’ inspirations). Beginning in the 1960s DeVos woodshedded with many musicians, and over the intervening decades he recorded or shared stages with Richard “Groove” Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Dr. Lonnie Smith and many others who taught DeVos the ins and outs of maintaining the groove. More recently, DeVos was involved with the Charles Earland Tribute Band, and the Ron McClure Quartet.
These 11 tracks feature DeVos’ working trio (with Dan Kostelnik on Hammond B-3 organ and drummer Steve Johns). The three are joined on about half the album by guest tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen. Bowen co-founded the ensemble Out of the Blue, has led his own projects, teaches jazz, and has performed with numerous artists, including Hank Jones, Benny Carter, and more.
The material is split evenly between DeVos’s originals and similarly-styled covers of Percy Mayfield, Shirley Scott and others. There is a sense of celebration throughout, and that feeling commences with “After Burner,” a tribute to DeVos’ former employer and mentor, Earland, who was nicknamed “The Mighty Burner.” According to DeVos’ liner notes, the appropriately upbeat tune began when DeVos woke up with a melody running in his head, and was later adapted from a basic 12-bar blues into an extended 16-bar arrangement. This swinging number has great interaction which involves the organ, the rhythm section, DeVos, and Bowen, whose warm tenor tone is well-geared to mesh with Kostelnik’s funky keyboards and DeVos’ flowing, direct chords and riffs. The title track is another standout which also features Bowen. DeVos says “Shadow Box” was motivated by Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane.” DeVos essentially wanted to also create a disguised F minor blues: while the blowing changes are in F minor, the melody doesn’t sound like a blues at all: DeVos states that the four-bar repeating vamp acts as a catalyst for the solos, and is the framework for Johns’ polyrhythmic drum improvisation. Bowen showcases his virtuosity, particularly in his memorable first solo spotlight. “Shadow Box” is an effective example of how DeVos can twist blues configurations into new parameters, without loss of harmonic or melodic appeal. DeVos bends anticipations again on “Blue Print,” which indeed has all of the hallmarks of a blues cut, but isn’t. DeVos explains “it’s a standard 32 bar, AABA structure” but is taken at such a relaxed stride it has blues connotations. Kostelnik’s organ quality specifically and undeniably evokes classic Jimmy Smith, who could also manipulate the blues into adventurous alterations. DeVos’ other two compositions, which also have Bowen on sax, are more pianistic in nature. The mid-tempo and thematic “The Wizard” owes some of its stimulation to the acoustic piano styles of Chick Corea and Bill Evans, and is dedicated to DeVos’ close friend, fellow keyboardist Louis Argese. The swinging “Maine Stay” (aptly written while DeVos stayed in a coastal Maine cottage), is similar to “Shadow Box,” since the first section impersonates a typical blues, while the second section deliberately resembles the bridge to George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” The result is a swaying piece with complex harmonies, handled superbly by Bowen and DeVos.
Classic American songwriting can also be heard elsewhere. DeVos (like other jazz artists) admires Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s breezy but sophisticated melodic songs. DeVos previously recorded two Bacharach-David tunes, and here he undertakes “Wives and Lovers,” also done by Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, Jack Jones and Nancy Wilson. DeVos’ lengthy rearrangement focuses on soul, with deft contributions from Bowen (who adds some sly funk references), Kostelnik (who sustains the groove) and DeVos, who displays his R&B and blues roots. Soul inventiveness is more paramount on a grooving reinterpretation of Mayfield’s 1950s-era “The River’s Invitation.” Whereas the original is a smoky ballad, DeVos and his band give this number a gritty New Orleans drive complete with a Crescent City-shaded, second-line groove and some bop-tinted seasoning reminiscent of Hank Crawford and Sonny Stitt (DeVos had a stint in Stitt’s group). DeVos shows more of his formative on-the-job training with a temperate and tender version of Mel Tormé’s standard “Born to be Blue,” an oft-recorded track (Montgomery, Grant Green and Clifford Brown are a few who did this tune). Shadow Box would make an excellent gift for someone who likes traditional organ/guitar soul-jazz. It has all the suitable and enjoyable ingredients, mixed and produced just right: DeVos has the adept ability to offer what is anticipated but can also expertly strip away expectations.
TrackList: After Burner; Pensativa; Wives and Lovers; The River’s Invitation; Shadow Box; Blue Print; The Wizard; Basie in Mind; Maine Stay; Born to be Blue; Twisted Blues.