The Dave Robbins Electric Band – ZAP! – Cellar Live CL102212, 66:11***:
(Dave Robbins – drums; Evan Arntzen – saxophones; Jared Burrows – guitar; Brad Turner – keyboards; Kerry Galloway – bass)
Jazz fusion had its zenith in the 1970s with groups such as Return To Forever and Weather Report, both of which were spawned by the Miles Davis Bitches Brew period and then mutated into smooth jazz of the ‘80s and ultimately became world music once all the other synonyms lost their cachet. The Dave Robbins Electric Band seems to believe that this musical form needs reviving and tries its best to do so on this debut release Zap!, confirming the trite saying “everything old is new again”.
While one should never discourage musicians from wishing to find a musical form that works for them, they also need to recognize why attention to this particular music-style waned. A rather simple answer is available: sameness and loudness. The electrification of the instruments created a homogeneous approach that only sounded good under the influence of psychotropic drugs. That is not suggested here, although temptation lurks around every corner, as the disc spins out the six original compositions by the leader and drummer Dave Robbins.
As the opening strains of the title track “Zap!” play out, one can imagine the ghosts of Return To Forever gleefully clapping their hands and giving a shout out to the band as the horn lines from saxophonist Evan Arntzen add his own exclamation point to the track. Bill Milkowski, writing in The Oxford Companion To Jazz edited by Bill Kirchner, says the following about fusion: “In its earliest incarnation, fusion music was raw and full of abandon, an iron fist upside the head of jazz complacency.” Easy to describe but not so easily played. Robbins and the band do make a dutiful effort to discover some of these traits which show up in soul-funk rendition of “Nasty Little Hairs” and take a controlled approach on “Slowing Movement” which gives keyboardist Brad Turner a chance to shine. The band deserves an ‘A’ for effort, but probably an ‘F’ for any attempt to bring fusion back to life.
TrackList: Zap; River Of Huge; Dimwit; Carboniferous; Nasty Little Hairs; Slowing Moment; Unrise; Green Hands