Dave Zinno Unisphere – River of January – Whaling City Sound 

by | Apr 19, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews

Dave Zinno Unisphere – River of January – Whaling City Sound

Bassist Dave Zinno takes us on a musical journey from Kansas to Brazil and stops in between.

Dave Zinno Unisphere – River of January [TrackList follows] – Whaling City Sound [Dist. by Naxos] WCS101, 68:37 [10/6/17] ****:

(Dave Zinno – double bass, producer; Mike Tucker – tenor saxophone; Leo Genovese – piano, melodica; Rafael Barata – drums; Eric “Benny” Bloom – trumpet (tracks 8-10))

It makes sense bassist Dave Zinno named his group Dave Zinno Unisphere. The Unisphere is a spherical stainless-steel representation of the Earth created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair dedicated to “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.” Zinno uses many facets of jazz including a large dose of Latin jazz, jazz arrangements of pop material and straightforward jazz. He utilizes them all on his latest ten-track outing, River of January.

Zinno—a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island—has previously backed vocalist Dianne Schuur and has performed with Jimmy Cobb, Junior Cook, Jimmy Heath, John Hicks, John Medeski and others. He’s spent much time in Brazil and has extensively studied Latin jazz. Zinno’s band also has tenor saxophonist Mike Tucker. Tucker leads his own ensemble and has supported Esperanza Spaulding, Joe Lovano, George Duke and more. Argentinian Leo Genovese takes the piano seat (he also adds melodica). Genovese has recorded with Spaulding, Oscar Feldman and several Latin American artists. Brazilian Rafael Barata does the drumming and has wide-ranging credits in Brazilian music. New Orleans-based trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom (originally from Rhode Island) guests on three cuts. His eclectic background includes rappers such as Redman and Method Man; jazz artists like Mark Whitfield and Christian McBride; and rock musicians such as Govt Mule and Derek Trucks.

Dave Zinno

The 68-minute album has some quiet moments but overall this is a swinging collection of compositions: two by Zinno; three by Tucker; one by Genovese; and covers of pianist Paul Nagel, pop songwriter Jimmy Webb and two Brazilian tunes. The basic quartet open with “Babycakes,” Zinno’s musical ode to his beloved Carolina. Barata’s up-ticking cadence, Zinno’s sonorous bass lines and Genovese’s blues-laced piano are all wonderful. Tucker’s improvising has some interesting time shifts and an exploratory approach but he never steps too far beyond what draws in listeners. The lengthiest piece—Zinno’s 10:53 “Little Lili”—is a portrait of Zinno’s Brazilian niece. “Little Lili” begins with a smoldering mannerism and gradually builds as Barata, Genovese and Zinno heighten the rhythmic attributes. There are some serious improvisational sections during “Little Lili” which bear close inspection. Tucker’s numbers are also people-oriented. “Feira Hippie” was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s weekend craft fair held in Ipanema. Zinno states in the CD liner notes, “At some fairs…there is a Chorinho, a jam session where masters and students play side by side. It’s music as community.” Certainly, this upbeat, seven-minute number exemplifies this concept of musicians getting together and letting things become exciting and memorable. Tucker’s economical and sensitive ballad “Inverno Sem Rio” (translated as “Winter without River”) has a modern ambiance with distinguished harmonic interplay. Tucker’s thematically notable “South End Blues” introduces Bloom, who is probably best recognized for his membership in NOLA’s funk band Lettuce. Those who only know Bloom’s funk side might be surprised by his tonality and sound, which echoes Freddie Hubbard’s melodic quality.

Bloom also is heard on the closing cuts. First there is Genovese’s moody, atmospheric “Rapanui,” an otherworldly piece penned in homage to the inhabitants of Easter Island, whose ancestors produced the enigmatic, giant sculptures called Moai. During “Rapanui” Zinno switches to arco bass while Tucker and Bloom generate sometimes whispery and breathy intonations and Barata supplies swishing percussive effects. The record concludes on a zippy crescendo with revered Brazilian composer Pixinguinha’s “Um a Zero” (English: “One to Zero”). Zinno reworks “Um a Zero” into a boisterous, confirmatory contemporary samba. The other two covers are not to be missed. The quartet does justice to Claudio Roditi’s “Recife Blues,” titled after the northeastern Brazilian city. This thoroughly pleasing Latin jazz cut has both Baião and Forró rhythms. Genovese does double duty on “Recife Blues,” supplementing his driving piano with melodica. And then there’s Webb’s symbolic “Wichita Lineman,” a major pop hit for Glen Campbell and redone by everyone from REM to Sergio Mendes. Zinno and his foursome maintain an elegant expression throughout this 6:49 interpretation. Zinno, Tucker, Genovese and Barata sustain a sense of loneliness all too common for touring musicians who must leave family, friends and loved ones. If you missed River of January when it came out in late 2017, give it a spin.

Remember When
Feira Hippie
Inverno Sem Rio
Little Lilli
Recife Blues
Wichita Lineman
South End Blues
Um a Zero

—Doug Simpson

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