Justin Hellman ~ Shakin' it Like a Blue Funk Monkey
Date: Sunday, February 10, 2008 @ 15:49:02 UTC
Artist: Justin Hellman
CD: Shakin' it Like a Blue Funk Monkey
Home: San Francisco, California
Style: Original Jazz
Quote: "Well-crafted music performed by great musicians… what else do you want?"
By Silas Durocher
Justin Hellman’s newest release, Shakin’ it Like a Blue Funk Monkey, is a good recording of excellent musicians playing well-composed, original jazz.
Shakin’ it Like a Blue Funk Monkey features Justin Hellman on upright and electric basses, Jon Arkin on drum set, Eric Vogler on guitar, and Roshywn Bullock on tenor saxophone. In the liner notes of the album, Hellman thanks the other musicians for “bringing my music to life,” and indeed they do. These are all very talented, skilled jazz players (I should mention that between all these guys, they have played with world-class musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Roy Hargrove, Chick Corea, Ira Sullivan, and Freddie Hubbard). These are musicians who understand the importance of subtlety (why are there so few of those?).
That said, like any all-instrumental CD, each musician has many opportunities to shine. Bullock takes a very directional, well-phrased solo on “Anthem of the Little People,” the album’s opening track, while the rest of the band builds intuitively along with him. His saxophone solo on “Mindfudge” comes in with a gorgeous beginning and continues on with tremendous soul. Volger’s guitar playing is very melodic and creative. His solos are interesting and his comping is very effective. “Snizzle” and “Furious George” both feature perfectly executed guitar leads. Arkin is a laid-back drummer; his beats fit tastefully into the pocket of the music, respectfully giving priority to the composition by relegating himself to a role of support. Even his solo on “Interesting Apples” is very mellow and simple, but undoubtedly tasteful, well-done, and great to listen to.
Hellman himself is a very versatile player. Throughout the CD we hear him walking jazzy lines (“Shakin’ it Like a Blue Funk Monkey”), pushing the music with driving bass (“Ironical”), playing funky, laid-back grooves (“Furious George”), delivering melodic leads on the upright (“Snizzle”), nailing guitar-like solos on the electric (“Ironical”), and creating bluesy, pentatonic-based lines (“Interesting Apples”). It is clear by listening to his playing that he is a trained bassist and an educated musician.
Having established that these are great players, let’s turn our attention to the compositions themselves. Again, Hellman’s music education shows through here. With the exception of a couple of tunes such as the title track, which features a simple head and blues progression somewhat reminiscent of Coltrane’s “Mr. PC” (not a bad thing to be compared to, by the way), the compositions are complex and interesting enough, and the band well-rehearsed enough, that the music avoids the “any-good-musician-could-sit-in-read-a-chart-and-play-this-music-with-no-practice” feel of a lot of jazz. “Proclamation,” for example, has some very interesting counterpoint and rhythmic shifts that the group makes sound easy. That said, Hellman isn’t afraid to keep it simple, and that’s very respectable. The main bass part for “Mindfudge” is just one note - but it grooves so well. It’s tasteful (the fact that that word keeps coming up in this review should tell you something about the album). The best musicians are usually the ones who don’t need to constantly prove to you how many notes they can play and how fast they can play them.
The strongest track on the CD is the last one, “Interesting Apples,” which is a great treat at the end of an already strong album. Granted, “shakin’ it like a blue funk monkey” as a description of music could be interpreted many ways, but for me, “Interesting Apples” embodies the title of the CD most accurately. It’s funky, it’s bluesy, it’s soulful, and Hellman’s upright playing sounds fantastic - it wraps up the CD perfectly.
Shakin’ it Like a Blue Funk Monkey is a smooth listen (without ever coming close to “easy listening”). Well-crafted music performed by great musicians ... what else do you want? If you have any interest in jazz, I can fully endorse this CD. I would go so far as to say that it is the best CD I have heard since I started writing reviews for Indie-Music.com (although I have to admit, I just started a week ago and this is the first review I’ve written). Give this CD a try - contemporary, original jazz deserves to be supported. Why not start here?
Artist Website: http://www.justinhellman.com