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Ximo Tebar: The Champs

If the names Joey DeFrancesco and Idris Muhammad are enough reason for folks to check out Spanish guitarist Ximo Tebar’s 11th album, The Champs (Omix), I’d like to hope those same people will be racking up Visa debt for import copies of his last 10. Just hearing 41-year-old Tebar’s simmering rendition of Jimmy Heath’s “Ginger Bread Boy” has me wishing that we Stateside types hadn’t been in the dark about for so much of his career.

This date shows that Tebar has a Rat Packer’s heart: He’s almost too aware of his own coolness. But the CD also busts at the seams with killer displays of musicality from all concerned. Tebar’s bebop-borne chops keep pace with DeFrancesco’s thrust on the Hammond B3, but it’s far from a screaming, gritty organ set. A classier vibe steams off this disc, with DeFrancesco (and Tebar, too) articulating notes in solos cleanly and smear-free without coming across as stiff. And the pair has a rare patience with its timekeeper, heard at its best in “Nica’s Dream” where Muhammad executes extended, suspense-building fills that resolve in tight interplay.

All the more satisfying are occasional trumpet contributions by DeFrancesco, as well as Tebar’s own scat vocals. Ella Fitzgerald notwithstanding, scat drives me up the wall, but how can the wordless jive Tebar drops in absolute unison with both his guitar and Joey D’s extra-pearly toned B3 during a full-throttle version of “Donna Lee” turn anybody off?

Originally Published