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July/August 2002

Respectable Groove
Mysterious Barracudas
Mister Sam Records

The word "respectable" in the band name Respectable Groove catches the ear as a double entendre. You understand that the group is respectable because it draws from the upright musics of classical, world and jazz in its groove-forging activity. But you also worry that the band is respectable in the sense of not being condemnable or really praiseworthy. And you fear that Respectable Groove may be too concerned with being the former to avoid the latter.

As evidenced on its new album Mysterious Barracudas, the ensemble, composed of Evelyn Nallen's recorder, Richard Jeffries' double bass, Ichiro Tatsuhara's percussion and David Gordon's keyboards (primarily harpsichord), has an undeniably ear-catching sonority, and most of this music has a consistent, driving pulse that captures the second word of the group's name. But at first the melodies, from Renaissance manuscripts, classical composers such as Francois Couperin (who supplied the title track), traditional tunes and original compositions, feel merely pretty rather than interesting.

Yet there are subtler delights to be had from this disc on repeated listenings. Though the melodies dominate on first hearing, "La Rotta della Manfredina" and "Trotto" are actually laced with some serendipitous jazz harmonies and on-point support from Jeffries. Jeffries' composition "Henderson the Rain King," after Saul Bellow's novel, reveals itself as quite an adventurous musical journey, led by Nallen's questing recorder. And the last track, "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," is a stunner the first time out, with Nallen breathing hushed, concentrated melody over Tatsuhara-supplied Indian percussion that seems to stop time.

Respectable Groove is everything its name implies and more. Heck, I wouldn't even mind if they wanted to call themselves "meritorious."

Originally published in July/August 2002
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