Ground Zero

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Manila, the Philippines, isn't the first place one normally looks expecting to find a modern jazz scene. It's not on the regular touring schedule and the closest any of its residents gets to jazz is through difficult to obtain records and discs. This makes the emergence of a band like Wdouji all the more surprising. Its name is an acronym for "Witch Doctors of Underground Jazz Improvisation," and underground is how these musicians have thrived, serving up a strong dose of imaginative hard bop that owes a bit to the sound of early-'60s Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. The ten pieces are all original compositions and range from the plaintive melancholy of "Dear John," with its lovely soprano line from Ronald Tomas, to the relaxed funk of "It's All Good...the Boulevard...Jail," which sounds like it might have been a hitherto unknown Lee Morgan tune. Many of the remaining tracks have themes that wouldn't have sounded out of place on any number of Blue Note albums from the late '50s and the '60s, though they're played with a command and knowledge that incorporates much that has occurred since, including snatches of free improvisation. It's only with the final cut, "A-Modal," that Wdouji really stretches out, the rhythm section cooking along ferociously and supporting some kicking solos, especially by bassist Simon Tan. Ground Zero is a fine debut effort and bodes well for the health of jazz in this oft-neglected corner of the world. Recommended.

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