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Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna

Concept albums can be risky. They demand to be judged by their structure; if that structure fails, the album suffers, regardless of its other aspects. That’s the case with trombonist Josh Roseman’s New Constellations: Live in Vienna, a collection of compelling, imaginative music sabotaged by its messy conceptual framework. Ostensibly the disc is a tribute to ska trombonist/innovator Don Drummond, but only contains two of his songs, an odd homage to the genre’s most revered composer. The originals and other covers (including the Rastafarian standard “Satta Massaganna” and two very different takes on the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better”) are mostly ska or spacey dub reggae, a style born after Drummond’s death.

Roseman tries to balance the classic sounds with super-modern ones: “Greasy Feets Music” and “Olsen Twins Subpoena” blend jazz-funk and dub with M-Base and hip-hop. They’re meant to illuminate how Drummond’s ideas have evolved; instead, they confuse, juxtaposed as they are with material that’s already tenuous in its Drummond connection. Unshackled from context, though, the individual cuts tend toward stellar. Roseman’s writing and playing belies equally deep knowledge of jazz and Jamaican music, and the Drummond covers (“Thoroughfare,” “Confucious”), as well as danceable originals like “B4 and After,” unabashedly rejoice in both traditions. Meanwhile, if the more contemporary pieces don’t clarify, they do mesmerize, and hint at the future, too. John Holt’s “I Wanna Be With You” is just lovely, and both Beatles renditions have a strange charm. Alas for the muddled concept, purchasing tracks as MP3s is probably wisest.

Originally Published