David Hungate

Souvenir

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When former Toto bassist David Hungate decided to record an instrumental album in the early '90s, critics were bound to be skeptical. Toto, after all, was the sort of ultra-slick corporate rock outfit whom critics love to hate -- and critics assumed that if Hungate did something jazz-oriented, it would be the most vacuous, mind-numbing, Kenny G.-worshipping, Richard Elliott-loving stuff imaginable. But Souvenir, which was Hungate's first album as a leader, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. For the most part, this is a decent album of fusion and crossover pop-jazz. Pat Metheny, the Yellowjackets, and Weather Report are influences, and even though Souvenir isn't in a class with their best work, it is still respectable. Hungate's playing is lyrical and melodic (but not sappy or saccharine) on Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun" and reflective, pensive originals like "Morning Long Ago," "Dreamland," and "Lament" (not to be confused with the J.J. Johnson standard). Although Souvenir came out in 1994, it was probably recorded around 1990 or 1991, because Toto's Jeff Porcaro (who died in 1992) is among the drummers. The worst thing about this CD is the fact that the material tends to sound over-produced -- when you're dealing with any type of jazz (be it bop, fusion, swing, free jazz, or Dixieland), musicians are better served by spontaneity. Heavy production is fine for hip-hop and techno, but jazz (even pop-flavored jazz) is better off with less production and more improvisation. Nonetheless, Souvenir is much better than critics expected it to be. Critics assumed that Hungate was going to provide a big dose of mindless elevator music; instead, this generally worthwhile, if imperfect, outing indicated that the bassist had potential as a fusion/pop-jazz instrumentalist.

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