PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
April 6, 2004

jazzscene: Virginia's Finest

by Jim Newsom

It’s hard to dispute Charlottesville’s claim as music capital of Virginia. Not only does the Dave Matthews Band hail from there, but there is a solid jazz scene built around U. Va. faculty members happening there as well. Some of the best music being made anywhere these days is being produced by one of those profs, Robert Jospe, and the band of merry musical compatriots he calls Inner Rhythm. Jospe’s Time to Play was one of my faves of 2003, and his new release, Hands On, is even better.

Robert Jospe Hands On Unlike his last two recordings, Hands On is not self-distributed. It’s been picked up by Random Chance Records, a New York City label whose motto is “Blues, Jazz & Whatever.” Although Time to Play reached the Top 5 on the JazzWeek radio play charts, I hope the new distribution deal will bring Jospe’s music to an even larger audience.

An inventive polyrhythmic drummer and percussionist, Jospe is also an accomplished composer. He attended New York University and played on the Big Apple scene for fifteen years before moving down to C’Ville to join the University’s music faculty in 1989.

As on his earlier discs, he populates Hands On with a lineup of local guys who have played together in various incarnations for many years. It kicks off with Pete Spaar’s two-note bass line opening the title track, propelled by the congas of percussionist Kevin Davis. A little guitar, and then Jospe enters on the drumkit. Jeff Decker’s soprano saxophone is quickly sailing atop Bob Hallahan’s piano accompaniment. Decker roams far and wide, his intonation perfect, the groove solid beneath him.

The next cut, “Round Seven,” proves that 7/4 can be a funky time signature, with the front line of Decker’s tenor sax and John D’Earth’s trumpet laying down Jospe’s original melody before yielding the floor to guitarist Royce Campbell. Once again, Decker’s solo is just right, and D’Earth and Jospe follow with tasteful individual turns in the spotlight. The group’s romp through “The Night Before” casts the old Beatles classic in a swinging Latin groove a la Eddie Palmieri’s La Perfecta that is impossible to sit still for. It really kicks out the jams.

On most of the tracks, the frontline trumpet/sax blend is exhilarating. After a cacophonous opening, the horns lay down a mellow harmonic line across the sinewy rhythm section on “Higher Power,” a Jospe/Hallahan composition that smolders intensely.

Campbell’s “Funk For Miles” could have been lifted right off one of Miles Davis’ latter day recordings like Tutu or Amandla. D’Earth captures the trumpet god’s sound of that period perfectly, and the arrangement is a dead ringer for Marcus Miller’s settings for Miles. “Allen’s Alley” combines Blue Note soul jazz with Afro-Caribbean propulsion, while the ensemble paints a portrait of a leisurely weekend stroll in the park on “Out and About.”

“Mambo Mio” and “Groovy Samba” cook with the passionate rhythms for which Jospe has made his mark, and “Serenidade” and Wayne Shorter’s “Virgo” provide balladic balance.

With Hands On, Jospe and his simpatico musical mates deliver a high class, high caliber outing. If they give those “Virginia’s Finest” stickers to CDs, this disc deserves one.


There are some interesting things afoot musically this month around here. Phoebus High School graduate and Chick Corea sideman Steve Wilson brings his saxophones to town for a five-day residency at Old Dominion University, beginning Thursday, April 15th. He’ll give a free clinic that afternoon at 3:00, and another free clinic the next morning at 10:00. On Sunday afternoon, he’ll perform with the ODU Jazz Ensemble, and the next night he’ll wrap things up with the John Toomey Trio in Chandler Hall. We’ll have more information and an interview with Steve in next week’s issue of Port Folio Weekly.

The genre-hopping ensemble, Orpheus, has a concert set for the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia on Sunday, April 25th, at 4:00 in the afternoon. A quintet made up of harp guitar master Stephen Bennett, multi-stringman Bill Gurley, pianist Jim Bennett, bassist Jimmy Masters and percussionist Larry Emanuel, Orpheus blends folk, jazz and world music into a unique musical amalgam all its own.

Saxophonist Charles Peterson leads his band, Against All Odds, into the Chrysler Museum’s Huber Court for the regular Wednesday night jazz series on April 7th. The trio known as Swing Time, led by saxophonist Larry Weintraub, comes in the next week, followed by RaJazz on the 21st and saxman Reggie Gist on the 28th.

Pianist Tim McDonald has a new CD scheduled for release this month with Terry Burrell on bass and Leon Alexander on drums. He can be heard locally with Swing Time at the Chrysler and with the Russell Scarborough Trio at Central 111 in Virginia Beach every Sunday.

Guitarist Nick Kepics is also putting the finishing touches on a new CD to be called Rounding the Bend, a followup to his Piece Offering of a couple of years ago. Woody Beckner brings his guitar and his group to Kincaid’s every Friday night, then travels through the tunnel to Brutti’s in Olde Towne Portsmouth each Saturday evening.

Vocalist Charles Darden was in the studio last month with John Toomey laying down the tracks for a new recording of standards that he hopes to have out by the end of April. If all goes according to plan, he’ll have copies available at his concert in the Mary Christian Auditorium on the campus of Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton on Friday, April 30th.

I’m playing with the Jim Newsom Quartet (Ron Hallman, Dave Hufstedler, Tom Jeffrey) on Monday, April 19th, at the Botanical Gardens for the annual “Grapevine” event that kicks off the Azalea Festival. Two nights later, the 19th, I’ll be joined by bassist Jimmy Masters and trumpeter Hallman at Café Rosso in Ghent for a special performance benefiting the American Cancer Society.

And if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for the Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival at the end of the month, call Christopher Newport University’s box office at 594-8752 quickly! I understand there are still a few tickets left for the Dave Holland Quintet’s performance on Thursday, April 30th, and for Michael Brecker’s show the next night. However, singer Peter Cincotti’s Saturday night concert is sold out.

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