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January/February 2008

Thom Rotella 4-Tet
Out of the Blues
Four-Bar

With Out of the Blues, Thom Rotella has discarded his infernal need to please by fitting neatly into the smooth-jazz marketplace. On this purely swinging session, fueled by the stellar drumming of jazz veteran Roy McCurdy (a valued sideman during the ’60s with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, Sonny Rollins and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet), the guitarist goes all the way back to his pre-smooth-jazz roots by paying homage to two of his biggest influences, Wes Montgomery and George Benson.

From the breezy midtempo opener “Who Dat?” to the laid-back and greasy “Bluze 4 Youze” to his jaunty 3/4 swinger “The Dr. Is In,” Rotella flaunts a warm, robust tone and Benson-esque fluidity in his single-note lines, along with touches of Wes-inspired octaves work. A rhythmically assured player and melodic improviser with an abundance of chops, he is capably supported in his fretboard flights by the comfortable rhythm tandem of McCurdy and bassist Luther Hughes, a former sideman to the late Gene Harris of Three Sounds fame. Llew Matthews and Rich Eames split piano duties on these 10 tracks.

McCurdy’s tasty brushwork underscores an elegant, reharmonized rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” and a sublime reading of “My Foolish Heart,” which opens with Rotella’s lush chordal melody intro. The guitarist also kicks off a lightly swinging rendition of “I Hear a Rhapsody” with an impressive solo guitar intro that would do his L.A. studio mentor, Tommy Tedesco, proud. Another highlight is the sparse, striking ballad “Shimmer,” taken at the kind of ultra-slow tempo that Betty Carter would routinely luxuriate in. McCurdy, who also played with the late Ms. Carter back in the early ’60s, handles that snail’s pace with seasoned aplomb. The buoyant closer “Be Here Now” is possibly the most commercial track on the collection, but it’s still far hipper than anything on Home Again.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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