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Joel Frahm: The Bright Side (Anzic)

Review of the saxophonist's first album with a "chordless" trio

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Cover of Joel Frahm album The Bright Side
Cover of Joel Frahm album The Bright Side

Heading a group without chordal instruments can be risky. Will the horn player or players provide the melodic leadership and improvisational verve necessary to keep the proceedings engaging? Will the bassist effectively fill in or imply the chord progressions? Will the drummer zone into all parties concerned, and provide grooves and textures that make the whole affair complete? The answer to those questions is a resounding “yes” for the bulk of The Bright Side, the debut trio album from well-traveled saxophonist Joel Frahm, mostly on tenor and joined by bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Ernesto Cervini. The three, who constitute half of Cervini’s band Turboprop, conspire on a varied program of originals, some hard-charging, some relatively relaxed, and several of which draw from jazz standards.

“Blow Poppa Joe,” a zig-zagging piece constructed on the changes of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” is one of three Frahm tunes that open the album. The first four notes of the ambling “Thinking of Benny,” for saxophonist Benny Golson, seem to reference the theme song of vintage TV series The Andy Griffith Show, and “Boo Dip Dip” is a swirling burner. The saxophonist also contributes the funk-to-swing “Omer’s World,” the buoyant “Qu’est-ce Que C’est,” and “Beeline,” a breezy tune making use of “My Shining Hour.” For his closing, bluesy title track, inspired by the opening riff of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” he tosses in playful quotes of familiar melodies, and the piece opens up for beefy declarations by Loomis.

Frahm turns to soprano for Loomis’ moody ballad “Silk Road,” and the bassist also provides the tricky, inventive “X Friends,” drawing from the changes of “Just Friends.” Cervini’s free-ish “The Beautiful Mystery” builds drama from long tenor tones; stately, resonant bass statements; and the drummer’s cymbal swirls and other flourishes.

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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.