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March 2005

Denis Colin Trio
Something in Common
Sunnyside

On the admirable, ambitious Something in Common, Denis Colin melds stylistically left-of-center jazz with pop idioms, covering tunes by musicians as varied as Wyclef Jean, Archie Shepp and Stevie Wonder. In addition to his trio (Colin, bass clarinet; Didier Petit, cello; Pablo Cueco, zarb), the leader enlists the help of some fine vocalists, including most notably Wain McFarlane, Gwen Matthews and the Steeles. McFarlane handles the vocals on Colin's arrangement of Jean's "Diallo," a heartfelt condemnation of the 1999 shooting of an unarmed West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, by New York City police officers. McFarlane's vocals are as passionate as the song requires; the pain of the event is made palpable by his and the group's performances. Matthews has a few shaky moments on Beaver Harris' "African Drum Suite," as she mimics some of Colin's more expressionistic bass clarinet flourishes, yet she's a strong, feeling presence.

The Steeles are responsible for one of the album's highlights, a superb vocal and instrumental arrangement of Marlena Shaw's "Woman of the Ghetto," backed by Colin's trio. The Steeles' lead singer (presumably either Jevetta or Jearlyn Steele) is a first-rate gospel-inspired vocalist. Missing-thankfully-is the excess so common to latter-day soul and R&B singers. Her bends and slides are honestly delivered, and all the more effective for it. Petit and Cueco lay down creative, idiosyncratic grooves.

Colin is a fine, swinging bass clarinetist-at times a bit overly prone to honks and squeals perhaps but at his best a tasty, intelligent improviser. He's even better as an arranger and conceptualist; rarely is jazz fused with other music so successfully.

Originally published in March 2005
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