Another Gorgeously Cinematic New Mix of Accordion and Piano Jazz From Ben Rosenblum
Ben Rosenblum is one of the most electrifyingly eclectic voices in jazz. He’s as adrenalizing an accordionist as he is a pianist, but his strongest suit ultimately is his compositions. His earlier ones can be hard to find, but one place you can find him is at Smalls on March 2 where he’s playing the album release show for his new one A Thousand Pebbles – streaming at Spotify – with his brilliant Nebula Project septet. Sets are at 7:30 and around 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.
The opening tune, Catamaran, takes awhile to get going, but when it does, it’s breathtaking. Trumpeter Wayne Tucker hits a tantalizingly fleeting chromatic passage, with the bandleader, bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig build a bustling high-seas tableau. Rosenblum switches to accordion for a spiritedly goofy Irish jig of an outro.
He sticks with that instrument over guitarist Rafael Rosa’s pulse in Bulgares while the band build an increasingly complex web of gorgeous Balkan tonalities, the wicked spirals of the accordion in contrast with the blistering conversation between Rosa and Tucker. It’s one of the best track released in 2023 so far.
The album’s title suite begins with a sentimental chorale between Tucker and saxophonists Jasper Dutz and Xavier Del Castillo. The second movement, Road to Recollection, is a genial, brassy swing tune where the ensemble sounds twice as large as they are behind Rosenblum’s piano rivulets, punches and pointillisms. Backward masked patches signal the segue to The Gathering, a spacious, increasingly acidic, moody accordion jazz tune that strongly evokes the Claudia Quintet, a calmly biting sax solo at the center and another electrifying Tucker solo on the way out.
Rosenblum opens the conclusion, Living Streams, with spare, wary gospel piano, Rosa and the horns enhancing the hymnal ambience as they bring the suite full circle.
Bookended with Jaffe’s somber, bowed bass, The Bell from Europe – a post WWII reflection on the legacy of violence – couldn’t be more relevant. Tucker’s solemn solo rises in tandem with the horns over a funereal pulse as the music brightens, Rosa channeling a sobering angst along with melancholy, chugging bass to remind that too little has changed since 1945.
The band pick up the pace with The Village Steps, Rosenblum’s pensive, pastoral accordion sailing over a churning, altered samba groove. The turn into shadowy noir with Lilian, a portrait of a femme fatale, is deliciously, understatedly lurid, with eerie reverb guitar, smoky horns, suspiciously genial bass clarinet from Dutz, a slithery bass solo, and enigmatically circling piano worthy of a classic Johnny Mandel theme from the 50s.
They reinvent Jobim’s Song of the Sabia as jaunty forro jazz with Rosenblum’s accordion at the center over the horns’ lustre: imagine Forro in the Dark at their most lithe and animated. Rosenblum closes with Implicit Attitude, a supple swing tune that looks back to Gil Evans-era Miles with simmering solos from Del Castillo’s tenor sax, Tucker’s muted trumpet and Dutz’s dynamically leaping bass clarinet. This rich and vastly diverse album deserves consideration for best jazz record of 2023.