You’ve reached a Premium article. To continue reading, please login or start a 3-MONTH TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION for just 99 cents/month. You’ll receive unlimited digital access plus a complimentary issue of our award-winning print magazine.
Join Our Newsletter
Join thousands of other jazz enthusiasts and get new music, artists, album, events and more delivered to your inbox.
Juba Lee picks up where 2019’s Testament left off, when veteran New York reedman-composer Avram Fefer added guitarist Marc Ribot to his longtime trio with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor. Like that previous release, the new album shows off Fefer’s gifts for melody and songcraft, along with the band’s knack for strong grooves, spiced with a taste for open-field experimentation.
Songfulness is established with the first track, the appropriately titled curtain raiser “Showtime,” with its fast-swinging bluesy walk and the fresh, self-generating riffs of Fefer and Ribot’s solos. The core of the album comes through in the rolling African polyrhythmic grooves of pieces like “Bedouin Dream” and “Sky Lake,” the latter with a particularly rocking solo from Ribot. Again, Fefer’s songcraft gives these vamp-based tunes loft with tasty contrasting bridge sections. His melodic talents also buoy the South African township swing of “Brother Ibrahim” and the Ornette Coleman tribute “Gemini Time,” the latter with Fefer playing his own Ornette-like, freely melodic alto solo.
In other pieces, the forms might bend a bit. On the title track, for instance, the dancing, declamatory minor-mode theme breaks for free-pulse rhythms under the soloists, Ribot wailing behind Fefer’s alto like a second horn before taking his own double-tracked, broad-gestured romp. Despite the constant roil of free-pulse bass and drums under them in the ballad “Love Is in the Air,” Fefer (on alto) and Ribot’s improvisations hew to the bittersweet anticipation of the long-toned melody. “Say You’re Sorry” is a taffy-pull of tunefulness and thick tenor vibrato (with guitar commentary) over free-churning bass and drums, a mixture of sarcasm and lament.
Album closer “Sweet Fifteen (for G.T.)” is a tribute to Fefer’s friend, mentor and bandmate (in Burnt Sugar), the writer and musician Greg Tate, who died in December 2021. Scored for bass clarinet and acoustic guitar, the piece’s lovely minor-key melody and bossa nova groove (in 15/8!) are like a final benediction and declaration of faith. — Jon Garelick