Reviewed by Kirpal Gordon
reprinted from Jazz Times
The killin’ist thing about Tony Adamo & the New York Crew is that everybody in the band, especially the dope rhyme sayer, has got big ears all the way back to New Orleans and ancient-forward into the ever-evolving Multi-New Thing. It’s big ears working together that’s keeping this CD in Jazzweeks Chart Top 200 List since its release, a totally unheard of phenomenon for jazz-spoken word collaborations.
Although singing the talents and wonders of the giants who make this music immortal is nothing new, Adamo and the New York Crew pour out on these eleven tracks joyous lagniappes of praise, the song-cup running over with each additional solo. It’s one thing to express an artful appreciation of the Jazz Messengers, for example, in a song, but it’s a whole other monster of tribute when the band rocks Blakey’s sound so righteously. Former Headhunter Mike Clark (drummer, co-writer and producer) swings beyond emulation into stratospheric celebration and the whole band follows as Adamo catalogues the great players who have graced the bandstand with Bu. Tony lays out, the alto sax and trumpet blend beautifully and piano, trumpet, sax all solo before he reappears and everyone trades eights.
Like Sun Ra said, “Space is the place,” and Tim Ouimette, musical arranger, co-writer and trumpeter, masterfully spaces things so that each praise song layers in many textures and qualities. Bassist Richie Goods, pianist Michael Wolff and percussionist Bill Summers round out the rhythm section, all of whom have worked with the songwriting team of Adamo and Clark previously. The ease, grace and Old School range of the band is further enriched by Donald Harrison on alto saxophone, who brings his own Big Easy roots perspective to this praise-the-trad project. Indeed, the players deliver context, fusing the lyrical phrases of Adamo with the living musical tradition.
But the big ears thing with these first-call musicians really begins with the spoken word. Adamo, a Bronx paison, has fused many elements into his style beyond the obvious Gotham props to Gil-Scott Heron in the Seventies and the Beat and Black Art Movements of the Sixties. As for his inventiveness in the formation of phrases, there’s more than just a taste of Lester Young and Mezz Mezzrow musically and linguistically (the groove be the place) as well as philosophically, that is, it may now be considered hip to be hedonistic or narcissistic, but the code as manifested by Mezz and Prez spoke of the wheel of compassion, understanding, at-one-ment as well as the hard road of injustice. Adamo is walking this I’m You/You’re Me, Have Mercy talk. It’s a New York lineage that began with Walt Whitman and there’s no better company to keep.
In terms of how his tongue works, Adamo’s got the golden-pear-toned, shucks-by-golly, just-gimme-the-high-life-and-leave-out-the-rest, spooky disc jockey voiceover, a shock-mock-crock of total incredulity, a rumbling-crumb-bum-stumbling cross between Chuck D and Murray the K with his swingin’ soiree. His poetic line is free-versed bebop Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut, cousin to Eddie Jefferson’s weird word elasticity and kin to Babs Gonzalez’s mad hatter, flipped wig chatter with a chauffeured Moor to the Other Shore, but balanced by his deep baritone hugging a Jack Kerouac tenderness basted in bourbon, Buddha and the blues, delivered in a “hey man, this really happened” sincerity reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg. Ah, but Adamo can do more than recite rhymes or pull your coat to what’s really up and this is where shit gets scary: he whoops, swoops, croons and hollers! He second-line shouts! He bursts into song! Like Nuyorican Miguel Algarin, his sung words dance in the air with his spoken words. Like Newark griot Amiri Baraka raising up Coltrane, like Old Man Yeats writing of the dancer and the dance, like Ramakrishna singing of the Divine Mother, Adamo becomes the song he’s praising!
That’s why Bright Moments abound throughout. First tune out of the gate, it’s Lenny White (for real) kickin’ ferocious ass on the drum kit as Adamo bends vowels with his bare hands, bleeds through consonant clusters and rides the tributaries of sound current tributes for trumpeter Eddie Gale over Wolff’s Afro-Cuban-ish ostinato. When his river of acclaim runs over, Harrison jumps in and takes it further; nothing stays put except that repeating piano! Everything’s swinging, shifting, and getting four-dimensional. Six minutes in, this listener knows something’s cookin’ and can taste it.
Regarding the rhythm section, check how they drive each other in the next tune, “City Swings,” another Big Apple tribute: Goods walks that full bodied bass as Wolff’s piano becomes the sound of cobblestones while Clark turns cymbals into street lamps and tom toms into footsteps and it draws the best out of Adamo. For straight-up soul jazz salutations, check his “dope-a-licious” shout out to Eddie Harris and his “Listen Here Listen Up” as Adamo speaks, sings, shouts and shapes sounds into a verbal free-form improv on the power of the pianist’s funk, proof that one can dance to spoken word when this band’s bringin’ it on the sanctified strength. “General T” is another I’ll-Take-Manhattan tone poem homage, an accolade to a Village Vanguard word slinger who “was talkin’ smooth and preachin’ fire” as the New York Crew cooks a melody in Miles mid-Sixties Quintet eerieness with a strong resemblance to Wayne Shorter’s “Iris.” Sax and trumpet get gorgeous via long-tone blending with the word play, and when Harrison and Ouimette drop out, the rhythm section kicks in underneath Adamo, feeding him and he responds with “funk-spastic” story telling and Harlem history connecting: “Like an ace to a flush, I was in no rush.” The collection’s swingin’est surprise is “You Gotta B Fly,” a Killer Joe-ish uptempo vehicle with a vocal that Adamo totally nails. His singing is so bopright delicious it leaves the spoken word chorus he takes in the dust. The guitar solo by Jean Santalis is another unexpected pleasure. Like the CD itself.
The whole she-bang is for real. Only one question remains: when is Tony Adamo and the New York Crew playing the Big Apple?