Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Chieli Minucci & Special EFX: Live At The Java Jazz Festival” (Platinum Records)

It would not surprise me if some people were to think there are two Chieli
Minucci’s. One is a highly-regarded composer for television, winning three Emmy
Awards for his music for “The Guiding Light” and themes for other programs, as
well as special “hold” music for Verizon. The other is an eminently skilled and
highly creative jazz guitarist/composer and leader of the band Special EFX, who
had a long run of recording success in the 1980’s/90’s. Of course, they’re the
same person, who happens to have developed two very different musical

This live-concert DVD presents the second of the two Chieli Minucci’s, a very modern
jazz guitarist who himself is more than capable of changing musical identities,
ranging from Wes Montgomery-rooted mainstream guitarist
to McLaughlin/DiMeola-flavored jazz/rock/world-music fusionist, and beyond. But
don’t get the idea that he’s an imitator, as he does all manner of interesting
things to transform his influences into something solidly original. Moreover,
he’s smart enough to surround himself with four other musicians, who likewise do
new things within settings comfortable enough to be appealing to a wide range of
listeners, from smooth-jazz fans to rockers to mainstream jazz purists, and all
points throughout that wide spectrum.

The concert was filmed in 2009 at a festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, a country one
might not automatically associate with contemporary-jazz. But as the fusion band
Krakatau has long demonstrated, there are some exciting things happening in that
island nation, even though Americans seem only to hear of it when there’s a
massive natural disaster of some sort. (Side note - I seriously doubt James
Brown appeared at the 2009 Java Jazz Festival, despite what it says in the liner
notes, as James died in 2006.)

Minucci’s style is, as I’ve indicated rooted in earlier aspproaches to jazz guitar,styles,
but his rhythmic sense and textural explorations clearly mark him as a
contemporary equal of a Charlie Hunter (albeit without the latter’s independent
bass lines.) He deftly works his way from the early Miles/Chick brand of
jazz-rock, through "pre-dolphin" Winter Consort, a lovely Stevie Wonder ballad
(the only cover on the disc), Afro and Afro-Brazilian, all th way to
funk, through the course of seven tastefully arranged tracks, each of which is
of a substantial enough length (averaging around 10 minutes or so) to develop
through a number of changes and mood shifts.

Each of the members of Special EFX is a a creative force in his own right, and keeps
a cohesive groove going as a unit. Percussionist Philip Hamilton adds wordless
vocal melodies and interjections which contribute a world-music flavoring to
several tracks. Keyboardist Jay Rowe adds lovely cushions under Minucci’s
playing and solos with such joy that the listener can’t help but be caught up in
his exuberance. Drummer Lionel Cordew always seems to know what’s appropriate,
while bassist Jerry Brooks has a popping, crackling approach that enlivens the
rhythm section and intensifies his solo breaks.

Sound and picture quality are excellent. No bonus features, but there’s 75 minutes’
worth of music, with virtually no wasted time in between tunes. It's all music,
very little chat, which is an important factor when it comes to repeated
viewing. I simply can’t imagine anyone walking away unimpressed by this concert

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