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December 2007

Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki
Rob Wagner Trio
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Multi-instrumentalist Rob Wagner has lived in New Orleans for 15 years, performing and recording in varying styles, from funk to klezmer to the modal/free jazz he presents here. He’s joined by bassist Nobu Ozaki and drummer Hamid Drake.

Wagner seems to take an overly deferent attitude regarding Drake, who seems to get a “first-among-equals” treatment, both in the mix and the music’s construction. It’s hard to blame Wagner (when you cast Cary Grant, you give him the best lines), but Drake doesn’t need to be thrust out front. He knows when to take the reins and when to lay back. Ozaki works nicely in combination with Drake, with whom he shares an affinity for swing-based inside/outside playing. Wagner is an insistent player on tenor and soprano saxes, and clarinet. He’s as likely to focus on the many permutations of a motif as he is to engage in flights of melodic fancy. He has a sense of drama, using subtleties of pitch and dynamics to good ends. His tunes are attractively lyrical and open, providing a suitably slight framework for the extended improvisations. It’s gratifying to know that such powerful leftward-leaning jazz can still be heard in the Crescent City.

Originally published in December 2007
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