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May 2007

Chris Washburne and the Syotos Band
Land of Nod
Jazzheads Records

This is protest music of a different sort. Without uttering a word, Chris Washburne issues a stinging indictment of U.S. foreign policy and tells Americans to wake up. From the title (Land of Nod suggests that voters were asleep for two presidential elections) to the cover art (a distorted—some might say defaced—representation of the American flag), the trombonist expresses disgust with the man in the White House and those who have supported him.

Now let’s set aside the politics for a moment: This is damn fine music. The third album from Washburne’s SYOTOS Band cooks up another infectious stew of modern Latin jazz. And while this is a heck of a cohesive unit, the individuality of the musicians comes through clear—particularly the agitated tenor sax of Ole Mathisen and the rousing piano of Barry Olsen. The first three tunes, all Washburne’s, might well compose a suite whose theme is not hard to discern: “Pink,” “Off-White” and “Blue Gust.” Washburne’s fabulous ’bone playing is enhanced by Olsen’s dissonant chords and countered by John Walsh’s blaring trumpet, which calls to mind Arturo Sandoval. Is it reading too much into the suite to suggest that the way it fades out at the end is a metaphor for Washburne’s view that his flag’s glory is fading? Nah.

The album’s angriest piece, however, is “Guantanamo,” which opens with a blast: the guttural growl of Washburne’s trombone, Olsen’s thick chords, cymbal splashes and, for good measure, a Korean gong. The band generates a driving Cuban beat, but it comes with a melodic sense of foreboding. Like the place for which it is named, the piece is full of tension that is never released and never resolved. On a more hopeful note, the disc ends with two calls for “Peace”—Ornette Coleman’s, which demands it, and Horace Silver’s, which pleads for it.

Originally published in May 2007
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