Bassist/composer Tom Kennedy has been working mostly in the fusion jazz realm for nearly five decades. Stories is his sixth album as leader and provides an opportunity to share his original songs inspired by his many global travels with those he has often played and formed lasting relationships with. Kennedy has been a longtime fixture in the Dave Weckl Band and Weckl’s drumming is vibrantly present on six of these eight tracks. Along with Weckl are fellow St. Louis friends – drummer Roger Guth (the other two tracks) and keyboardist Jay Oliver. Joining this core unit are trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonists Gary Meek, Bill Evans, and Ada Rovatti, percussionist Roger Squirero (who plays on all tracks), guitarist Mike Stern, and violinist Sarina Suno.
Kennedy’s churning, prominent electric bass colors every track as well as his keyboards that adds layers to Oliver’s soaring synth and Rhodes lines. According to Kennedy, each of these pieces conjures up memories to the extent that he can even remember certain smells of hotel rooms while on tour, making this a deeply personal endeavor, one he calls “emotional GPS.” The rollicking opener “Hurry Up!” was written with Weckl in mind and Kennedy who has roots in big band music too, called in veteran big band trumpeter Nick Marchione to add a brass section, giving it a blaring, big band feel. He took this same approach with the funky closer, “BB’s Blues,” named for the St. Louis club BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soups, a venue where he first broke in as a youngster.
The first five tunes, as well as the aforementioned, feature renowned jazz fusion drummer Dave Weckl whose Dave Weckl Band’s Live in St. Louis at the Chesterfield Jazz Festival 2019, featuring Kennedy and Meek was just released this past April. The music here is in a similar vein with “Elements” incorporating not only the music of that band but pieces from Kennedy’s tenure with Stern, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and the Brecker Brothers feeding into it. Naturally Stern is aboard for this one and the soaring tenor and soprano sax spots come courtesy of Brecker’s wife, Ada Rovatti. “The 70s” is a flash back to an inspirational period of Kennedy’s life, the beginnings of jazz-rock and jazz-funk fusion.
Brecker and Rovatti both appear on the title track, a nod to Kennedy’s tenure in the late Michael Brecker’s Steps Ahead. “Jacket” is essentially right out of the Dave Weckl Band style, as Gary Meek joins Weckl, Kennedy and Oliver on bass clarinet and tenor. The deceptively titled “A Simple Song” has a gorgeous melody carried by Rovatti on soprano and Suno on electric violin as Guth is behind the kit for this one and the soaring “Altitude” which proves to be a showcase for Bill Evans on tenor and soprano and Kennedy’s best bass solo on the album.
Devotees of the Dave Weckl Band and later generation jazz-fusion will find much to like here as Kennedy proves to be more than a formidable sideman, crafting memorable melodies that will linger in your head for days. All the players here stay pretty much ‘in the pocket,” in service to these compositions, so the various guests, in concert with the core trio, render these as tight ensemble pieces that stay vibrant throughout.
- Jim Hynes
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