Great Uncles of the Revolution

Great Uncles of the Revolution Stand Up!

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Music critics have always felt free to use stylistic definitions and labels as if they were tossing darts in a bar, but sometimes a recording comes along that blends a variety of genres so effortlessly that the best thing to call it is just "music," or perhaps "great music." Great Uncles of the Revolution is a band who combines musicians from two of Canada's largest cities and active music scenes: Toronto and Vancouver. Jesse Zubot and Steve Dawson are a violinist/mandolinist and guitarist/dobro player, respectively, who have gigged and released several albums under the stylistic code of "strang." The work of these players is somewhat similar to acoustic musicians who have come out of bluegrass and particularly newgrass, the supposedly progressive side of this genre. Fans of modern jazz sometimes find this type of music much too restrained or overly pretty, but when the Toronto players are folded into the recipe, the result is a good deal more stimulating. Andrew Downing, a marvelous bassist, and the superb trumpeter Kevin Turcotte seem to bring in a more challenging atmosphere as well as contributing to a terrific instrumental blend that becomes even more vivid on tracks that add trombonist William Carn and Kim Ratcliffe on banjo and dobro. The Vancouver players constantly provide the string band sound that by its very essence opens the sound up to other dimensions, so it is a perfect collaboration. Strong melodic sensibilities and a warm and secure tone are there throughout, creating a pleasing flow that is unusually absorbing. When chances are taken, it is not about making the instrument sound like it is choking to death; instead it is a decision to play the chestnut "Stomping at the Savoy" at a crawl, drawing out the curve of the melody as if it was a mountain ballad. Dawson's dobro vocalizes like a Lester Young sax, beautifully recorded; the brass instruments take over completely for a gurgling chamber music moment; and the entire ensemble comes together once again for a well-arranged, sometimes even meticulous head composition. These are typical moments that stand out throughout the course of the disc. Compositionally, it is hard not to regard the bassist as a bit of the nominal bandleader, since all the pieces are his with the exception of the aforementioned cover and Justin Haynes' fine "Cat and Mouse." The listener could develop a slight fatigue from the over-familiarity in some of the themes; one example is a "Muchacho" that is in a bit of a "Mood Indigo."

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