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The Chico Freeman Project: Out of Many Comes the One

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“Ya can’t shut the funk up,” New Orleans’ redoubtable Dr. John has instructed us. But on this disk Chico Freeman sounds determined to do just that-or, at the very least, cut it off at the knees.

This might have been an enjoyable, if not exactly revelatory, journey through the mellow districts of Funky Town. Freeman and his ensemble create tonalities and voicings that sometimes echo the early Davis/Evans “cool” sound; laying that self-consciously retro (and genteel) texture over a contemporary urban funk backing could have created some interesting tensions. However, aside from a few sharply defined angles here and there, courtesy of Freeman’s tenor and alto saxes, Misha Tsiganov’s keyboards, Bill White’s guitar and Alexei Tsiganov’s vibes and marimba, there are few attempts on offer to tackle anything serious, let alone seek innovative solutions to any problems that might arise.

In fact, conflict avoidance, rather than confrontation, seems to be the order of the day. Bassist Orlando Marin occasionally manages to fire off some effectively solid-bodied thunks and string-pops, but drummer Abe Fogle inexplicably left his boogie shoes at home for this date. It’s not easy to summon heart or soul out of the music-box tonalities of a Fender Rhodes, and Tsiganov can’t pull it off. Her piano work, meanwhile, tends toward the overly lush and is mostly devoid of impetus. The breathy purrs of vocalists Athina Kostavara and Jennifer Hamady lack both sensuality and pathos. Freeman sounds mostly as if he never heard of Maceo Parker, let alone Fathead Newman.

Funk is aural street poetry-without some whoop-ass in the beat and some grit in the execution, it loses its soul and becomes little more than cotton candy with a dash of hot sauce.