The mandolinist joins forces with guitarist Ron Getz and bassist Wes Ivankovich on “Without Words.” Recorded in the music room at the International School of Florence in Florence, Italy, the disc starts out with the curious and hypnotic “Uncle Joe’s Groove,” an original by Ivankovich. Getz’s string-plucking “Dressup Box” reveals that his writing chops match his playing chops. “Dressup” seemingly hints at things while dancing around the melody, while the title track, another Getz original, features the composer playing the melody while Julin provides the backing, before the two effortlessly switch roles. Both are restrained and lovely songs.
Julin’s tunes are less straightforward. “Dance of the Praying Mantis” seems to be forever searching for its center, while “Zero Gravity” features the writer carefully choosing the notes for this gently swinging tune.
“Lonesome Cactus Groove,” the debut CD of Julin‘s new group, the Neptune Quartet, is even more otherworldly. While the disc includes tunes by Joe Zawinul, Django Reinhardt, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, it is less overtly jazzy than “Without Words.” Julin, cellist Crispin Campbell, guitarist Angelo Meli and bassist Glenn Wolff interact engagingly throughout.
Like Julin, Campbell is no stranger to crossover music, veering from classical to sea chanteys to quasi-ambient instrumentals. That kind of chameleonic ability is perfect for this disc, with its genre-hopping and bopping.
In fact, the group seems to revel in its fractured personality. A nearly classical reading of Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” is followed by Meli’s “Pencil Pushin’ Blues,” which veers into Appalachia and Bayou blues.
The groove of the title cut is again somewhere in between classical and jazz and bluegrass. The disc closes with a gentle treatment of the Beatles “Here, There and Everywhere,” which gives way to the neo-bluegrass of Julin’s “Deborah.”
The only cut the two discs have in common is “Dance of the Praying Mantis.” The Neptune Quartet’s version is, if anything, even more schizophrenic than that on “Without Words.” Here Campbell is the focal point, slowly sawing his way up the neck of his cello, before Julin brings things back somewhere close to Earth.
While mandolinist David Grisman’s jazzgrass was a nearly seamless melding of jazz and bluegrass, Julin seems to delight in careening from one to the other, and classical as well, sometimes in the same tune. Bonus points to the Neptune Quartet for such a cool name, but of the two recordings, “Without Words” is the easier to digest.
Arts Center Jazz Collective
There’s no quandary over what kind of music is performed by the Arts Center Jazz Collective. If the group’s rather unwieldy name wasn’t enough of a clue, even a cursory listen reveals just what you’re in for.
This is modern jazz, but it has more in common with the Modern Jazz Quartet than what passes for jazz on today’s smooth radio. That’s not a slam at the smooth jazz genre, but the sound of “With One Accord” harkens back many decades, though it is delightfully modern sounding as well.
It’s no mean feat to pay homage to what has come before without sounding stuck in the past. Those who manage, such as Nicholas Payton or occasionally Chick Corea, use the sounds, voicings, or occasionally even the very songs that inspired musicians in the 40s and 50s, while still producing an original sound.
Here the group - seven jazz musicians and educators from the Midwest - eschews well-worn standards for nine originals written by the members of the group. The sound is relaxed and inviting on the opening “Ernie’s Romp,” by saxophonist Bill Sears. Sears’ liner compares it to the spirit of Art Blakey, and the propulsive stickwork of drummer Steve Zenz keeps it moving while all the members of the group solo.
Guitarist Bob Ferazza’s “The Green Bean Girl” has Brent Wallarab’s trombone playing counterpoint to Sears and Lennie Foy on trumpet, before pianist Luke Gillespie takes over. Sears then solos over the relaxed waltz beat maintained by the sympathetic rhythm section, before the composer’s brief solo.
And so it goes throughout the disc. All the members of the group get their moment in the sun, but the true strength of the band - the collective - is the ease with which they play together. It’s almost antithetical to single out anyone, but Sears’ solos always shine, and the crisp drumming and cymbal work of Zenz keep things moving while never grandstanding or overwhelming.
Both the Neptune Quartet and the Arts Center Jazz Collective will be performing later this season at Milliken Auditorium. The former’s originality and the latter’s lively swing mark both shows as ones you won’t want to miss.