Fields of wheat, wheat and more wheat, sometimes corn and, periodically, cows. This is what the average New Yorker thinks Kansas is and has, in total. How quaint, how provincial - the New Yorker that is. For lo and behold, the hinterlands often yield a different hometown product, one that is by all accounts a rarer commodity, and certainly, one that will produce a more satisfying, long-term nourishment for your soul. Jim Seeley is one such product. He is a ”jazz” musician with both skill and soul.
That’s a rare breed these days. Increasingly, we are subjected to young artists who have great facility on their instruments, as if a premium on virtuosity is a prerequisite in order for the music business to reward you with their meager attention. By those standards, Thelonius Monk would have trouble getting a record deal today…
Even rarer still is the musician who understands how jazz is rooted in the blues, and who’s done his homework and knows about Clifford, Chet, Woody, and Freddie. This knowledge is heady stuff, and even the best young players can sound like they are appropriating styles. But when you get a musician whose ears and mind are wide open and who knows how to play from his heart, a musician who truly forgets about time and space and declares the truth from his horn, now you’re talking.
Jim Seeley has the skills; he can float through complex changes and stop and turn on a dime. He can play in many jazz languages, from hard bop to free, and all with superlative trumpet technique and musical intellect. But, and here is the magic part, Jim is also a profound human being, a gentlemen's gentleman with intense feelings, or as my father used to say, “that’s a deep cat”.
Okay, so if you have the ability and the heart but have not connected the two, you still ain’t got nothing. But again, here’s more magic: Jimmy has become what all great musicians are, a conduit from the deepness of his soul, through the beauty of his thought and out the proper end of his horn, with great chops no less!
I’ve seen it happen time and time again over the past ten years. You see, Jimmy plays in all my groups, The Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, and my various small groups, from quartets to septets. When Jimmy plays, people go wild, they love him. That this isn’t reason enough for the big corporate record companies to support him is a mystery. Then again, everything they do is a mystery. In any case, I digress. Simply put, he does what jazz is supposed to do: he brings the message home. And consequently, people walk away from his performances a little bit richer, their loads a little bit lighter. That’s what it’s all about.
He is also a great writer who has put together an album of eight tunes, revealing a wide cross section of influences and styles. Pay special attention to his melodic construction. These are not frivolous compositions designed to make that royalty money (ha). These are individual characters, holistic organic personalities. They are not just vehicles for improvisation. They are such strong statements that they shape and inform the improviser as to what to play. I’ve adopted several Jim Seeley originals into my piano trio format and play them at almost every concert.
For this project, Jim put together a group of my favorite musicians. Jed Levy plays flute and tenor saxophone with a fierce swing and melodic inventiveness that lifts every selection to a new level. We laugh with glee when Jed gets really into it because his body starts to sway and swing in a special dance that serves as a warning that he is about to take flight. And when he does, watch out, he plays pure joy and, for lack of a better word, pure beingness.
Andy Gonzalez is one of my heroes, his bass lines exude elegance, logic and understanding of groove. He has not forgotten what Bach discovered, that the function of the bass is both rhythmic and contrapuntal. Please, it’s not a guitar. It is rhythm section royalty, and in Andy’s hands it fulfills its regal calling.
Phoenix Rivera is one of a handful of drummers in the world who can play true jazz and true latin with authority and swing. He has what we call in the business “spangalang” and “timba.’’ You might recognize it as that ineffable quality when you taste smokin’ barbecue. It’s intangible and goes beyond the individual ingredients, but you know it’s there ‘cause you gotta have more. It’s called fatback, manteca, moxie and a million other things. Phoenix has it in spades.
So basically what you’ve got on this CD is this, a true jazz experience. One that respects the many traditions within jazz, blues, funk, latin and swing. One that unabashedly, unashamedly, puts forward some very clear principles. It’s gotta groove, it’s gotta tug at your heart and appeal to your head. No pretensions, no delusions, just hard core music with one aim: to satisfy and nourish your heart and soul. - By the way, the pianist is not bad either!
On the opening track Truth Juice, listen to how Jim Seeley channels the ghosts of ca 1960 Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ style hard bop into a powerful, bluesy, instantly memorable tune. Listen to the spectacular, supremely authoritative opening trumpet solo by Jim, followed by a concise, to-the point sax solo statement by Jed, and an electrifying, funky closing solo by Arturo on his vintage Steinway piano, all of this over a rock-solid marching groove provided by Andy and Phoenix.
Solita is a gently swinging Latin bossa nova tune, serving as a springboard for some smooth soloing by Jim, Arturo on electric piano, Jim again, and Andy on his bass.
On Starry Night, another bossa nova, features Jim on muted trumpet in a duet with Jed Levy’s flute conjuring the sound world of late 60’s Hollywood TV and movie soundtracks.
Little General has a playful Latin / straightahead groove with a lively theme played in unison by Jim on trumpet and Jed on tenor sax, followed by some happy, joyful soloing by Jim, and Arturo.
Forest Path has a more relaxed musical smile on its face. Jed is having fun in his tenor sax solo, throwing rhythmic figures back and forth with drummer Phoenix, followed by another stupendous, highly virtuosic trumpet solo by Jim. After the re-statement of the theme, the track ends with a concise drum solo by Phoenix.
New Meaning, this recording’s only blues, is an uptempo blowing session led off by a couple of fast fingered trumpet choruses by Jim, followed by some soulful tenor sax by Jed, and a concluding, musical tension-building acoustic piano solo by Arturo.
Cha Cha returns one more time to the earlier, breezy Latin rhythms, providing ample solo space for Arturo on electric piano, Jim on trumpet, and Jed on tenor.
Child’s Play, the albums short closer, is a wistful muted trumpet solo by Jim over the jingling accompaniment of a child’s chiming toy.