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March 2009

Eli Yamin
You Can’t Buy Swing
Yamin

Eli Yamin is a high-energy straightahead piano player who is also an educator, consultant, DJ, and overall proselytizer for jazz. The first five tracks of this album could be a party record. They are all about having a hard-swinging good time.

The sixth track, “Rwandan Child,” opened by bassist Ari Roland, stops you cold. Elsewhere on You Can’t Buy Swing, Roland plays the arco bass solos he is known for, like dark wind through trees. But on “Rwandan Child” he is pizzicato, slow and sorrowful and ceremonial. Yamin plays a melody surprisingly lyrical but it becomes powerful left-hand chords of protest and right-hand tremolos that hang in the air like death knells. This was never meant to be a party record.

Yamin is also a clever thinker about Monk. “I Want to Be a Teacher” and “Well, You Better Not” freely reimagine “Let’s Cool One” and “Well, You Needn’t.” Yamin sublimates Monk’s jolts of deadpan discord into his own smoother style. Monk’s careening exuberance is not sublimated, but embraced. Besides, the band here is too strong for a party record. Is there anyone in jazz more consistently creative on more instruments than Chris Byars? His tenor saxophone solo on “Jacquet’s Meditation” is a remarkably complete improvised design that becomes increasingly convoluted and intense yet stays just above a whisper.

Originally published in March 2009
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