(Blue Cedars Records)
Chicago-born, Dallas-based Buddy Mohmed is perhaps the finest jazz upright-bass player in Texas. He's also a formidable jazz guitarist -- particularly in his unique explorations of traditional Greek and Arab melodic themes, Mohmed's trademark turf. American Bedouin is his debut, but these themes harken back to Café Noir's first album in 1987; Mohmed was the band's founding bassist. In effect, this album picks up somewhat where Café Noir's self-titled debut left off, while also reflecting Mohmed's work with Beledi Ensemble, his ever-mutating group of renegade players. Like Beledi, this new album transcends "jazz" and might be better categorized as just music -- dynamic, challenging shit you ain't never heard. For instance, every track uses a dumbek, a traditional Middle Eastern percussion instrument that Buddy's brother, Jamal, builds by hand. (Jamal Mohmed and Ken Grimes both play the instrument beautifully on the disc.)
The studio tracks of this all-instrumental project (three of the nine songs were recorded live at Mohmed's regular Sunday-night gig at Cosmic Café) show Mohmed at his best, atonal compositions rife with unpredictable twists. Mohmed's acoustic guitar solos -- on tracks such as "Rainmaker" and "The Idiot" -- sound like John McLaughlin technically, but are derived from musical cultures rarely explored even by McLaughlin. "Inside/Out America," which closes the disc, could have been written by Monk or Coltrane. It's the only melody led by tenor sax, lonesomely provided by Shelley Carrol of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In a time when the vast majority of musicians have nothing to say and just string together clichés, Buddy Mohmed has something to say. Alas, if only this kind of album could crack the Top 40, what a better world this would be.
Josh Alan Friedman
Round to It
Like Mohmed, Drew Phelps also used to play upright bass for Café Noir. But unlike Mohmed, Phelps dances with the instrument that brung him on Round to It, his solo debut. Phelps remains mostly in the background -- though he did write all but one of the album's nine tracks -- letting Brad Williams' piano and Richard McLure's guitar do most of the work. Not that there is much work to be done: Every note is savored, studied as though there aren't enough to go around. Woody Berner's drums couldn't be more unobtrusive if they were on a separate album, alternating between barely there and check-his-pulse (e.g., "Ferals," "Bump Dance," and, well, the entire album). At times, Round to It is so subdued, it feels like nothing more than background music for a plate of pasta at Terilli's. This may not be the album that elevates Phelps above the role of sideman, but at least it solidifies his standing as one.
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