When you get right down to it, there are few things as essential to jazz as a solid groove. Virtuosity is nice, sure, and it’s hard to be great if the spark of originality doesn’t burn bright beneath every solo, but even an average combo can kill if they’re deep enough in the pocket.
Stories Told is the second album by bassist Dave Zinno’s Unisphere, a project that came into being three years ago while Zinno and saxophonist Mike Tucker were in Rio de Janeiro. Although there’s a strong Brazilian flavor to their music, it would be oversimplifying to describe it as samba jazz; instead, the quintet takes a fusion approach to its music, happily shifting to swing or jazz-rock cadences as the music requires. Regardless of the choice, though, the groove is consistently, toe-tappingly strong, pushing the solos from below and lending everything a sense of rhythmic urgency.
Zinno deserves a good bit of credit for this, as his basslines lean into the beat aggressively when walking, and provide a solid anchor when working a samba pattern. But he’s only part of the equation, as drummer Rafael Barata routinely turbocharges Zinno’s pulse, deftly using cymbal accents and samba-schooled snare work to augment the beat without overcrowding it. Pianist Tim Ray expertly works the space between the two, but it’s Tucker who genuinely energizes the playing, whether working off something as loose as the backbeat-driven “Backup” or as cleverly arranged as their slyly Latin take on the Beatles’ “Michelle.”