Steve Shapiro

Backward Compatible

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Vibraphonist Steve Shapiro and guitarist Pat Bergeson are clearly influenced by people like Gary Burton and Chet Atkins respectively, as they straddle the line between modern contemporary jazz, pop, and country musics. On this, their second CD, the repertoire is a roller coaster ride between the disciplines. While uneven in terms of programming, it's a very good musical offering, competent and skilled while acknowledging their influences unapologetically. Vocalist Annie Sellick, who is a picture perfect singer reminiscent of the angelic Karen Carpenter, takes few chances but plays her sweet role gladly. Help from pro bassist Marc Johnson, accordionist Will Barrow, and saxophonist Scott Kreitzer increases the rhythmic foundation and color palette on top of Shapiro's bright vibes and the diverse contributions of Bergeson, playing mostly acoustic guitars and a little harmonica. Of the jazz oriented material, "Swingleberry" has the best idea of vibes, accordion, and guitar each playing the bright melody line, then they do it together. A one-note, late-night bass blues identifies "Dangerous Toys" as audio images of the songs "Fever" and "Tryin' Times" meet. The hot bop original "I'll Take the Soup" could rhetorically suggest a retort to a Jerry Seinfeld episode, as a short melody is blurred by the fast guitar of Bergeson. The most surprising piece, "Scary Americans," has Bergeson turning up the volume on his electric guitar as the band rips through a Brecker Brothers retro jazz-rock, neo-bop tune. Sellick sings a cowgirl's lament during "Early," goes slinky and sexy during the tango parsed, marimba flavored "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," is cutesy on the charming and endearing "Life Could Be Wonderful," and adopts a straight cocktail singer persona with Bergeson's acoustic guitar on the stock arrangement of "It Could Happen to You." The pop tunes "Free Man in Paris" and "Heart of Gold" are fairly straight reads, not jazzed up versions of the original tunes by Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, respectively. Shapiro is the most impressive performer here, and would be well served to front his own quartet so we can hear what is clearly a developed personal voice on his instruments. As in the previous recording Low Standards, Shapiro and Bergeson clearly have a sense of self-deprecating humor sorely needed in serious jazz circles. Backward Compatible meets that criterion in many ways.

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