Review: Burning Gums “Burning Gums”

Burning Gums “Burning Gums”

16 Jun, 2011 Nick Deriso

A stylistic tour de force, this self-titled trio effort manages to take in many of jazz music’s most notable influences, even tosses in a dash of Pacific island flavor, but it never falls into the rote imitative traps of so many of today’s more traditionalist recordings.

That’s a credit to executive producer Ron Jackson, a guitarist of mature yet inventive dexterity.

“Samba de Oueijo” finds Jackson leading the threesome through an echoing, atmospheric journey across a humid nightscape.  His guitar work recalls, by turns, Pat Metheny’s sleek modernity and Wes Montgomery’s riffy elation.  Meanwhile, bassist Norbert Marius is a propulsive counterpoint, moving with cat-like quickness underneath Jackson’s impressive runs.  Neither manages to catch drummer Matsuura Hiroyuki, however. He is always a cymbal-tap ahead of them.  Together, they create an album-opening statement of purpose.

The following “Excerpt of Tina III” takes a more considered turn, dropping the undulating rhythms.  But Jackson, a New York-based recording artist and instructor, stays firmly rooted in a clean, percussive groove.   He’s just as adept at playing these fleet swinging turns as he was with a lyrical samba.  Marius’ bass solo is deeply expressive, but never showy.

Fasten the seat belt, and place your tray in the upright position, though.  For all of the reserved classicism of “Except,” Burning Gums then proceeds to turn “Killer Joe” — Benny Golson’s soul-jazz classic — into a greasy R&B number.  Jackson and Marius dive into a deep-fried series of riffs, with Jackson taking over the familiar horn signature, even as Hiroyuki works the sizzling edges.  Playing over clips that sound like they come from news broadcasts, a police scanner, or maybe a NASA transmission, the trio proceeds to transform into a bouncing, nasty little funk group.  This ends up being more soul than jazz, and to thrilling effect.

“Sacred Love,” alas, is a more conventional jazz trio number — a pretty ballad, but not much more.  It’s not long, however, before Burning Gums has ramped up into “Going Bush,” which features a lilting, sun-splashed island beat.  Marius, who produced Burning Gums, at first takes a backseat on this one to the concise interplay between the elegant and vivid runs by Jackson and these brilliant bursts of syncopation from Hiroyuki.  But the bassist then dashes to the front with an impish solo that eventually defines the track.  When Jackson returns, it’s at a quickened pace, almost like he’s skipping along — seemingly emboldened by what came before.

“So What,” a signature Miles Davis composition, begins as a dreamy, almost psychedelic exploration into the far reaches of imagination.  Jackson’s tone, warbly and expressive at first, eventually coalesces into a sharply incisive series of improvisations.  Meanwhile, Hiroyuki bashes away with an insistence that eventually frames the song’s middle portion.  Marius’s solo, quietly effective but never completely at rest, represents the final stop before Jackson returns the song to a mirage-like reverie.  “So What” ends as it began, with an undefined expressiveness, not unlike the free-form experiments Davis himself was at work on a decade after he originally cut the song in the late 1950s.  This new version wouldn’t be out of place on signature fusion projects like In A Silent Way.

“Mangrove DoReMi” takes Burning Gums further into this contemplative space, adding environmental sounds to an initial free-form structure that allows the trio to explore their instruments with an impressive tone and deftness.   Jackson eventually hits a note, and repeats it, then repeats it again and again, sparking a flurry of activity from the others.  Their symbiosis is such that the song instantly takes flight.

The subsequent and soulful “Madras Parallel,” though it doesn’t approach the rib-sticking R&B delights of Burning Gums’ remake of “Killer Joe,” underscores again this trio’s ability to blend contrasting styles.  They are as funkified as they are swinging as they are influenced by Jackson’s roots in the Philippines. “Park Slope” then concludes Burning Gums on ruminative note, as Jackson constructs concentric circles around a portentous rhythm from Marius and Hiroyuki.

Even at the end, it’s clear that there isn’t much these three can’t do.  This self-titled release could have been twice as long, and never gotten old.

Review by Nick DeRiso
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)