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Vibes: With Drawn

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Bill Ware is a contemporary vibist of high caliber. With ensembles like The Jazz Passengers and Groove Collective, Ware’s soft-focused vibes exude a simmering cobalt hue that’s cool and foreboding. But playing in such large combos, Ware is too often relegated to colorist or auxiliary musician. With the trio Vibes, which is actually the rhythm section for the Jazz Passengers, Ware’s voice takes center stage.

With Drawn is their second release and first studio effort. Given that Ware, bassist Brad Jones and drummer/percussionist E.J. Rodriguez have been playing together in various groups for so many years, it should come as no surprise that the record’s communal spirit is sublime. That quality allows for both inside jokes like Rodriguez’s “Squeaky the Clown” and “Oh, E.J.” to yank the senses, and covers of R&B classics like Eddie Kendrick’s “Keep On Truckin'” and Bill Whithers’ “Lovely Day” to ooze without the threat of becoming smooth-jazz.

As the title suggests, With Drawn is a subdued offering. Even when the funk is airtight as on Jones’ sauntering “Cruel To Me” and the rhythms are percolating on the collectively-penned Latin-tinged, “Main Space,” the music paces with the grace of a lazy Sunday afternoon. The dreamy state of the album is only marred when the group utilizes some cheap-sounding keyboard overdubs on “Lovely Day,” “Keep On Truckin'” and Allan Price’s “House of the Rising Sun”. Unsure if the keyboard is suppose to miimick an organ or guitar, the end results are basically horrendous. Despite a few cosmetic blemishes and the explicitly downshift mode, With Drawn is an excellent album that puts the shamefully underrated Ware in clearer light.