As for the album’s theme, Fred writes in his liner notes, “This album represents the varied energies of life—the mysterious, beautiful, wild, sad, profound, creative, and festive—as manifested in the totemic figure of the jaguar and it’s mesmerizing movements…it’s Mood Walk.”.
Fred has assembled an excellent array of artists for Mood Walk. Which includes Dan Zemelman on piano, Erik Jekabson on trumpet and flugelhorn, Sheldon Brown on tenor sax and flute, and Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums along with guest artists Greg Sankovich (keyboards and organ), Sivestre Martinez (percussion), Brian Rice (percussion) and Dillon Vado (vibes).
Fred kicks off the album with On the Upside, inspired by the great Clifford Brown. Erik Jekabson is given the centerstage on trumpet and makes great use of the moment. Sheldon Brown takes over on tenor sax and it is clear from the start that this is going to be a fun ride—jaguars and all. Fred’s own bass solo is its own thrill ride and Dan Zemelman on piano and Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums get in their own cool trades. Then the whole band takes us home on a piece that makes you think, “Yeah, Clifford would have dug this.”
Unaware is described as being about “people who walk through the streets unaware of their surroundings.” The work is inspired by Chick Corea. Brown switches to flute and the result is a sweet sense of non-engagement. Dillon Vado’s work on the vibes follows the flute and the package amounts to a cool wistfulness, a blissful unawareness. Fred’s bass imparts a feeling of a quick stroll before piano and drums resume their doublespeak. This is good stuff.
T Bone Slide is a fun R&B romp inspired by the amazing Bernard Purdie’s drumming. The whole band contributes with additional help from Greg Sankovich on organ and Silvestre Martinez on percussion. Brown’s sax rolls through the piece and the rhythm section is just on fire. Fred’s bass growls behind the electric piano before taking over for a solo. The central melody is held and passed beautifully between them all and the whole piece is great rollicking fun.
The tempo drops off in Strange Game, a song “about the music business” and inspired by the latest David Crosby album. Obviously, Fred is eclectic in his listening. Zemelman’s piano is warm and a bit melancholy. Jekabson’s flugelhorn then Fred’s bass contribute to the melancholy before giving way to Brown’s flute. This is a sweet piece with brilliant playing from the artists.
Greg Wyser-Pratte’s drums jump start Mood Walk to introduce the blues playing from Brown tenor sax and Jekabson’s rousing trumpet. Zemelman gets a great turn on the piano before Fred lets the jaguar out for a walk. The rest of the band gets to trade off until they take the song out together. It’s playful in a cat-like way and bluesy all at once.
Knowing is a crisp Latin-driven rhythm piece. The harmonies of Zemelman’s piano and Fred’s bass lay a cool foundation for the solos of Brown and Martinez’ percussion. As a lover of Latin Jazz, I couldn’t get enough of this one. The unified horns were great punctuations. Pay attention to Greg Wyser-Pratte’s drumming.
Mr. Now was inspired by Coltrane Plays the Blues. Martinez is back on percussion and makes an unmistakable contribution with the Wyser-Pratte drums and cool Zemelman piano. Sheldon Brown takes on the Coltrane vibe on tenor sax and does not disappoint. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones would have enjoyed hearing Wyser-Pratte and Zemelman in their respective roles. The homage done to them all is true to the spirit of those past masters.
Todd’s Idea is based on the inimitable Todd Rundgren (remember what I said about Fred’s eclectic tastes). Sankovich is on the Wurlitzer electric piano and the horns all make for a catch-a-whiff-of-Rundgren throughout the piece. Rundgren’s humor, his emotion, his kindness, all are evident in this piece that seems more about the man than any particular piece or album of his. This track is the biggest departure from the rest of the album and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
A Congolese band playing the Ndombolo rhythm inspired Fred to write Nouveau Monde. The title, of course, means New World. While the French used that world to describe America, it is also used to describe a utopia based on human aspirations. Having been too many times disappointed by the former, I would like to believe in the latter. Such a song as this gives hope for just such a thing.
Obviously, you will want to pay close attention to the percussion and drums of Martinez and Wyser-Pratte throughout the piece but Brown’s tenor sax, Jekabson’s trumpet and the thundering bass of Fred Randolph are like dancers responding to the rhythm.
Meadows (Os Prados) is inspired by Brazilian composer Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar, artistically known as Guinga. Because of his pale skin, he was called Gringo and Guinga is based on his own mispronunciation of the word. (Just a little trivia from the Jazz Owl’s treasure trove).
The song itself is a waltz of Brazilian inspiration with Brown’s flute getting beautiful moments. In fact, all of the artists are afforded the spotlight with Fred giving a sweet, warm solo that suits the piece so well. This is a contender for best track on the album.
The album wraps up with Funky N.O. Thing. Fred’s bass opens the piece with a funky indeed solo that almost puts you in mind of Traffic’s I’m a Man. Appropriately, everyone solos on this piece. Brian Rice’s percussion and Sankovich’s organ are in lockstep with the core band. Like anything associated with New Orleans, this song makes you want to dance. There are a thousand things right with this song and not one thing wrong.
The same can be said of the album as a whole. Fred Randolph’s Mood Walk is an assembly of swinging, waltzing, reflective, melancholy, funny and fun songs drawn over his wide-ranging tastes in music—all rendered in a Jazz paradigm. I will be looking at his back catalog.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl