Marc Seales

American Songs, Volume 2: Blues...and Jazz

origin 82658

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Chris Lunn, Ancient Victorys

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Seales was one of a host of diverse and often extraordinary keyboard players in the late 70s jazz programs I was honored to book, host, and run for Victory, that included Al Hood, Barney McClure, Jorgen Cruise, Randy Halberstadt, Joni Metcalf, Nick Allison, and many more. Seales' command of the piano stopped you with his deep understanding of blues and jazz basics and an ability to solo intelligently but make the other players better with his support and challenges. After thirty-five years, the Seattle area still has the good fortune of having Seales playing and recording, plus he has been a steward of young jazz talent at the University of Washington Music Department.

This work explores the blues aspects of jazz, but make no mistake, this is jazz, with four originals by Seales, collaboration with guitarist Fred Hamilton, plus a Coltrane and a Shorter tune. Also on the recording, Jeff Johnson on acoustic bass and Dave Captein, electric bass, and the always inventive and tasteful voice and support of Gary Hobbs' percussion. Origin puts out a superior quality of music, and this is very well recorded in David Lange's superb studio in Edgewood. Often you get to see Seales locally behind singers, in a tight small group with a lot of solid straight-ahead jazz and major improvisation techniques. This explores blues in a whole different atmosphere, relying on both acoustic and electronic sound landscapes that remind me of the best of Metheny exploring, a touch of Bill Frisell, some exploratory Charles Taylor heavy hand, light electric explorations ala Corea and Hancock, even a Dr John reference, and 50s guitar lines of, say, Johnny Green. Originality and references abound, and we never get to stay in any one groove.

"Highway Blues" is not Chicago blues or some Piedmont blues excursion, but rather an expansive opening that releases to a wonderful Jeff Johnson bass solo with just light complements. The Piano delivers a strong attack, modern in blues form. Seales works the percussive against the drums well. "Open Road" begins in a softer, expansive mood, quiet, looking out, as the guitar of Fred Hamilton explores the horizons. Imagined myself in a cars with scenes going by. Seales entered lyrically on acoustic piano. The notes danced off like quick scenes going by car. Just color hings, complex, but can you catch them all? The road has more curves as the angular guitar and bass work to the percussive sounds lightly behind from Gary Hobbes. The piano gets more angular, working the mid and lower ranges. Solid road trip. "Sunset Blues" relies on a laid-back, lovely, and lonely feel established by the guitar and bass; then Seales takes over on electric keyboard, building, very lyrical, warm, almost joyful in comparison to the thematic set-up by the guitar and bass.His rapid notes are dazzling, clean in a superb solo and then he backs out. The modern jazz guitar starts an easy soaring as the rhythmic pulse picks up. Just when I think they are hedging toward predictable, almost pop jazz, they changed my head around. "Blue" opens with strong cords and lyrical piano, a touch of guitar. Again, what could be everyday music has so much strength as the pulse enters from bass and percussion. All instruments are even, trading, supporting but keeping their own voices, but acting collectively. Seales starts some lovely lyrical runs, but the drums and guitar never get boring, supporting but challenging. Again, Seales' lyrical bursts, control, and dexterity will pull you in.

This is a ballad of great rhythmic pulse and striding elegance. Listen to the transition to the guitar solo as Jeff Johnson's bass goes with a pulse and changes the line, the percussion is ever so light, and then high-end, tight work. Masterful. Now time for jazz history on "Blues for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" with almost talking accordion keyboard sounds in a primitive kind of talking, ancestral, with the bass rumbling a nice in behind percussion, and a slightly awakening guitar. The talking organ/piano blues picks up momentum and begins to swing, and the voice is more orchestral, still talking in a call-out gospel line, and the swinging mood is going strong. They are straight-ahead if that is a reasonable reference here. Guitar is in a tight mood, and then acoustic piano swings on the high and mid range. Hobbs' drums accent very well, never in the way. Hamilton's guitar comes out tight, working the line against the bass, warm notes tight and complex, solo with the bass rumbling, piano comping, drums barely there. Seales never leaves this groove, but releases to the bass, which solos cleanly with power and rapid accents and tone. Modern swinging blues at its best as the piano begins to explore and the drums begin to pick up. Seales moves the piano to an edgier place even, making fun, and then it releases into a bluesy piano mood, down and dirty references to boogie morphing to an avant touch. Bass and guitar talk quietly, touches of Johnny Green come in, and then the accordion-like keyboard enters the conversation talking particularly with the short guitar language.

The contemporary jazz rhythmic pulse with electric keyboard of Seales on Coltrane's "Giant Steps" is deceptive as Seales moves out of the standard jazz approach to the melody and moves into an intense lyricism that swings hard with very tight bass, guitar, and light percussion underneath. Seales brings so much swing and delightful expression to this table. Captein's electric bass is controlled, swinging, precise as the lyrical, hard-swinging guitar takes over with rapid notes. Listen to the guitar and bass tightness in this part. Dark, big, low-end piano opens Shorter's "ESP" and builds with tiny, thin guitar lines, a fine rhythmic electric bass pulse, then turns into a bass solo that builds, floats, adds complex rapid picking lines, a lovely and challenging solo. Percussive light, knocking, comes in to build for the guitar. This is a whole package with wide ranging types of sounds from each instrument, exploring not only their individual voices but the collective voice. Seales on acoustic piano approaches very lyrically and warm notes, grabbing a blue note and building the strength and volume of the solo in counter rhythms. The release is to a warm, melodic intersection that lifts you away as they close out.

This is a Marc Seales recording, but the wide-ranging voices of Fred Hamilton, both bass players, and the inventive Gary Hobbs on percussion are equally strong.






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