TRP (The Reese Project) – Evening in Vermont – Rhombus RHO 7016, 54:49 ****:
(Tom Reese – flute, pennywhistle, alto flute; Laurie Haines Reese – cello, electric cello; Kirk Reese – piano; Dave Young – drums; Tish Brown – violin, viola (tracks 2, 5, 7))
The Reese Project (also known simply as TRP) is a family quartet which can’t say no to new approaches to jazz. On the foursome’s ninth album, Evening in Vermont—and first for the Rhombus label—flautist Tom Reese (who wrote four of the 11 pieces), wife Laurie Haines Reese (cello and electric cello), brother Kirk Reese (piano) and drummer Dave Young do a mash-up of Stephen Foster and television cartoon dad Homer Simpson; a genre splicing of The Beatles with Miles Davis; and use an exotic electric cello as a string instrument and in place of a bass, not a typical configuration in any idiom.
Evening in Vermont features original and standard jazz compositions alongside traditional folk pieces performed in non-traditional ways. The record starts out conventionally with the swinging and bluesy title track, a happy-go-lucky cut which evokes Tom Reese’s cheery feelings he experienced during a Vermont evening with the wind in his hair and a clean, homespun smell in the air. Reese’s flute takes center stage and provides a jovial atmosphere, while his wife gives a funky bass support on electric cello and Kirk Reese slips in a grooving piano solo. Tom Reese’s tribute tune, “Blues for Ruthie,” has a related cadence, although it is more folksy than solidly bluesy. Laurie’s cello has a warm, Stéphane Grappelli-like tonality which balances nicely against the breezy flute, while Kirk Reese uses block chords which echo Thelonious Monk. Things stay jazzy with an appropriate cover of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Serenade to a Cuckoo,” which Kirk did as a flute excursion on his 1964 release, I Talk with the Spirits, but is probably best known as a vehicle for English progressive rock band Jethro Tull. Here, TRP returns the tune to its jazz source with an arrangement which reiterates Kirk’s version; although the flute is played in a lower register and the rhythm section decelerates the beat. Wayne Shorter’s jazz standard “Footprints” holds steady with a slowly churning and moody ambiance, commencing with a solo, overdubbed cello and electric cello introduction, and when the rest of the group enters, the flute assumes the saxophone role while Kirk Reese handles the piano in a way similar to Herbie Hancock, who is famously associated with Shorter’s classic. The most inventive moment comes during the lengthy “All Wood,” which capably combines Davis’ “All Blues” with The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” The rhythm section keeps a mid-tempo, undulating groove while Reese’s flute glides through the Lennon/McCartney pop-music theme. Everyone gets space to solo, with Kirk Reese’s piano improvisation one highlight and Young’s drum fills another.
Tom and Laurie Reese divide their time between TRP and the Celtic/folk-rock band Wyndfall, and their folk roots are revealed on a few jazzy interpretations of traditional folk numbers. “Kitchen Girl,” which may be familiar to David Bromberg fans, is shifted to a thriving, fast-paced fusion arrangement with an emphasis on jazz. Anyone acquainted with “Kitchen Girl” as a string-oriented piece may not recognize TRP’s translation. Folk flourishes are on more direct display during the much-recorded, Irish folk ballad “Minstrel Boy,” with guest violinist Tish Brown adding a mournful quality. The quickened “Over the Waterfall” has been done in both country and folk styles but TRP render it in a contemporary jazz pattern reminiscent of Oregon’s jazzier endeavors (compare this to Oregon’s “Charango,” for example). Strings in a four celli formation take over completely on quirky closer “Shenan-D’oh!-a,” which links Foster’s “Shenandoah” with a couple of quotes from Danny Elfman’s main theme to the hit animated television series “The Simpsons.”
Engineer Jim Easton has done an excellent job. He captures the ensemble’s musical inclinations and presents the flute upfront with effective authority; he offsets the piano with the deeper bass tones of the cello and bass drum; and he puts the higher-register cymbals in a correspondingly bright auditory placement. Easton’s behind-the-boards skills really help bring out the best aspects of each arrangement and instrument.
1. Evening in Vermont
2. Blues for Ruthie
3. Serenade to a Cuckoo
4. Kitchen Girl
5. Minstrel Boy
6. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
8. Over the Waterfall
10. All Wood
– Doug Simpson
A bona fide jazz legend is celebrated with an all-star documentary soundtrack vinyl soundtrack.