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CD REVIEW: Neil Kelly Quartet - Rivers Converge
By Dan Cohen - 12/21/2010 - 04:36 PM EST

Artist: BAND: Neil Kelly Quartet
Album: Rivers Converge
Label: First Orbit Sounds
Genre: Acoustic jazz
Sounds Like: wes montgomery, crusaders
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Rivers Converge, Paradox in Blue, The Raven in September, Leave of Absinthe
CD Review:

Neil Kelly Quartet's 'Rivers Converge' is a very good album. A beautiful album, beautifully played, impeccably recorded, full of wild, wonderful, rambling, exploratory tunes. It may even be great.

What makes an album great? First-you need interesting tunes, well arranged. Check. Kelly brings a clear, warm-toned sound to the title track and the other spirited and varied melodies. His playing is evocative of Wes Montgomery, Four on Six era, but the style is all his own-- packed with info, little arguments and asides, melodies and interjections, like a man arguing with himself, yet also full of beauty. And undeniably funky.

Second--  you've got to have the players. Check. Saxman Jonathan Bautista (typo on inside cover- can we proofread, people, puh-leeze??!!) is a stand-out, from the bright sunny playing on Trinity to the slow build of Threshold. It's hard to find a good soft tenor sax sound, other than that heavy, breathy, Ben Webster-type tone (which I love, btw), but Bautista brings something different, a deft touch and clear line to the melodies as well as his solos. A real find. The rest of the band is just as good. Jemal Ramirez is the excellent drummer, despite some overplaying (less is more on the lovely Paradox in Blue, my man!), from the up-tempo old school jazz groove of title tune to the light funky of Raven in September and the latin-inflected Leave of Absinthe. And bassist Lukas Vesely sounds great (a little hard to hear, though, light in the mix), especially his fly solo on Absinthe.

My only caveat...what is it about serious musicians that makes them want to look so, well, serious? The cover pictures the band in the woods. Gorgeous day, dappled sunlight streaming through the trees. Very California. And yet the band looks like they just escaped from prison, or are about to be attacked by goblins. Or both. Only Bautista manages a smile. Perhaps it's due to his fly headgear,  an old style porkpie hat in subdued lavender. Mingus meets the Joker! But imagine you're an escaped con and you're being pursued by other-worldly creatures. Plus you just bit the head off a squirrel. And you don't even like squirrel. In fact, you hate squirrel. That's Neil in this picture. Lighten up! This is the best jazz album I've heard this year. Tunes are quirky and fun, and it feels like you had a ball making the record. It's not easy to make a jazz album that rocks, but I think that's what we have here. Complete with the heavy metal pose on the cover. Heavy metal jazz? Could be the next big thing. With Neil Kelly leading the charge. So Neil, buddy-- You made a great modern jazz album! Crack a smile! Feel the love! Smell the eucalyptus! Or go buy some chain mail!

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