Catchy, Rewardingly Unpredictable Accordion Jazz From the Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project
The Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project’s new album Kites and Strings – streaming at Spotify – is as unpredictable as it is richly and entertainingly melodic. These songs hit you in waves: lots of long crescendos, with no predictable verse/chorus pattern. Rosenblum plays both piano and accordion here with a remarkable economy of notes, often overdubbing one instrument or another. He likes circling hooks and variations. Sometimes this evokes the Claudia Quintet at their most playful
In the album’s opening number, Cedar Place, he bedevils the listener with an endless series of rhythmic shifts beneath Wayne Tucker’s jaunty trumpet swing melody. Jasper Dutz’s bass clarinet looms to the surface after a hard-hitting yet hypnotic trumpet-fueled interlude, then he switches to tenor sax, floating and weaving as the brisk swing of bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig reaches critical mass.
The title track opens with a coyly strutting pairing of Rosenblum’s accordion and Jake Chapman’s vibraphone before the horns float in, then recede for a twinkling solo from the vibes as Rosenblum runs a subtle, flamenco-tinged accordion riff. Tucker’s calm, contented solo signals another brightly methodical upward climb.
Halfway to Wonderland is a bracing gem, veering in and out of waltz time to a hard-hitting piano solo, bass clarinet bubbling away as the rhythm section flurries, True to its title, Motif From Brahms is a wistful chamber jazz piece, the accordion adding cheer and bringing the temperature to a boil over a balletesque pulse following a moody, tersely neoromantic piano solo. The orchestral interweave at the end is tantalizingly brief: Rosenblum could have kept it going twice as long and nobody would be complaining.
The quasi-Balkan Fight or Flight is cartoonish and irresistibly funny, the whole band getting into the picture as guitarist Rafael Rosa flings off his distorted chords and then cuts loose on his own. It wouldn’t be out of place in the Greg Squared catalog.
Roseblum’s accordion sails over spacious, emphatic piano chords as Somewhere picks up from pensiveness toward a sense of triumph fueled by the trumpet, then the bass clarinet signals a shift toward latin territory. The warmly nocturnal ending is a neat, unpredictable touch.
Trumpet and sax build a lowlit exchange over Rosenblum’s dusky glimmer in Philadelphia, an unselfconsciously gorgeous ballad. Slightly restrained joy in solos from bass and trumpet finds a payoff in Rosa’s haphazard coda. Rossenblum keeps the glistening song-without-words ambience going in Bright Above Us, vibraphone adding extra tingle on the high end, guitar blazing a return from the stars, bass reaching for a subtler peak before the whole band ignites.
The horns start out in New Orleans as Laughing on the Inside kicks off with a brisk swing, accordion and then guitar taking the song further outside with echoes of Monk and eventually a devious drum solo. They close with Izpoved, a lingering, wary chorale for horns and accordion. One of the most adrenalizing and enjoyable albums of the past several months.