Tom Lellis is no stranger to Brazilian grooves; he's been making Rio-oriented records for a decade as of this writing. Southern Exposure is not so revolutionary in its aims -- despite the fact that it appears on the new and commendable Adventure Music label -- but in its execution it is flawless. Lellis uses Brazilians rhythms and harmonics as a hipster would, treading lightly with them, just enough to make sure you get the reference, but it's only one aspect in his bag of tricks. Like Ben Sidran 20 years ago, or Kurt Elling and Michael Franks in the early '70s, Lellis understands the depth of music in his phrasing, and makes it a polyrhythmic plank in his arsenal. His now-stunning pianism is another, with his nimble and eager right hand shifting through the middle register with tough ostinatos and glissandi. With help from the great Toninho Horta, and Frank Colon, Romero Lubambo, Kenny Werner, Kip Reed, Tony Marino, Dave Kikoski, and others -- including Jeremy Steig's soloing on flute on "Being Cool" -- Lellis creates a thoroughly modern jazz soundscape that is rooted in beautiful compositions. The man can write a song with the best of them -- check out the stunning bridge and verses in "From Tom To Tom," written for Jobim, or "Cancoes E Momentos," with its scatty version of an Indian lullaby chant, or the syncopated carnival funk in "Mixing/ Tomba in 7/4," and you get the idea of his fantastic reach. This isn't a purist's Brazilian jazz record, and that's good. It is a jazz record of hybrid forms and rhythms that underscores the depth of Tom Lellis' vision, and his commitment to breaking new ground. He does so with grace, elegance, sass, and just enough snarl and laughter to get it all across.
Southern Exposure Review
by Thom Jurek