Accordionist Rob Reich’s evocative style lends itself to storytelling. In the past, the Bay Area resident has played with the eclectic band Tin Hat and created live soundtracks to silent films. His debut album, Shadowbox, offers a range of sounds and styles that imply narrative through both composition and improvisation.
Some tracks suggest the romantic world of film music, like Nino Rota writing for a small jazz group. At the same time, a song like “Chicken Soup” offers a head-bobbing and angular jam, with accordion, guitar and clarinet swapping funky lines. A touch of old-school swing and even bebop further flavor the mix, with allusions to Charlie Christian, Bud Powell and Django Reinhardt. The album is charmingly dissonant at points, offsetting its sweet, whimsical melodies and laid-back grooves.
Reich plays piano and accordion alongside fellow Tin Hatter Ben Goldberg on clarinets, Todd Sickafoose on bass, Ila Cantor on guitar and Eric Garland on drums. “Night Heron” opens the album with a sultry Middle Eastern vibe. Plangent contra-alto clarinet drones a deep note as a foil for accordion chords. Goldberg rises with a stirring, soulful statement, prompting a delicate response from Reich which easily dissolves into the sound of the band. This blend sustains interest throughout. With such a diverse tonal range, the players mix so cleanly that it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s who until someone steps out to solo.
Listeners might easily overlook the fact that each track was recorded live in the studio — at least until the final song, “This Myth,” when Reich actually counts off the catchy romp for accordion, bass and drums. With lyrics, it might be a story-song from coal-mining country. The leader alone solos on this one, and his expansive, expressive playing renders the album’s last tall tale unforgettable. —Warren Allen