Treats for the Nightwalker

Josh Roseman Unit

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Treats for the Nightwalker Review

by William Tilland

Trombonist Josh Roseman should get high marks merely for bringing together the impressive cast of musicians on this date, who then execute his sophisticated charts with consummate sympathy and precision, with no apparent ego-tripping or stepping on one another's musical toes. The Josh Roseman Unit itself consists of Roseman plus the veteran Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax, flute and organ, Barney McCall on keyboards and "dub tactics," Ben Monder on guitar, Jonathan Maron on bass, and Billy Kilson on drums. However, no less than 17 additional musicians are listed as "special guests," including heavy-hitting young Turks such as Chris Potter on saxophone, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Ben Perowsky on drums, and Mark Feldman on violin.

After a brief "Organ Invocation," the program starts rather subversively with "Sedate Remix," a piece that could superficially fit into the current "smooth jazz" radio format, with its loping, vaguely Latin beat, and creamy, mellow ensemble work. But closer attention reveals some quirks that make even this opening piece much more than routine MOR fodder -- subtle little wah-wah touches on electric guitars, some dissonant flute voicings that suggest a Gil Evans influence, contrapuntal string passages, and a surprisingly fierce alto sax solo from Myron Walden. The subversion carries through to the next piece, which is propelled by understated but insistent funk rhythms from bass, drums and miscellaneous percussion, and continued attention to textural and compositional detail. The effect of some of these opening pieces is that of a kind of hyper-smooth jazz -- smooth jazz turned inside out, or nudged into a parallel jazz reality where restraint and civility doesn't equate with boredom. Roseman's own playing fits right in, as he's a prominent voice on the recording, but he never isolates himself from the larger purpose of the ensemble, and never takes the attitude of "hey, I'm the leader on this date, and if I want to do ten minutes of 'outside' blowing on this piece, by golly, I'm going to do it."

Later pieces on the CD are bolder stylistically, from the reggae-flavored "Long Day, Short Night" to the "Bitches Brew"-style funk on "Meera," where the bass clarinet of Jay Rodrigues summons the spirit of Bernie Maupin. On "Prospect," an opening touch of douss n'gouni imparts a Middle Eastern flavor. The final piece, "Regression," serves as a showcase for Roseman's soulful, slow-burning 'bone work, but as usual, it's the composition and the arrangement that truly distinguish the music, with the percussion percolating, flutes languidly wailing, and both acoustic and electric guitars emerging periodically with concise, tasty licks. If all those so-called "smooth jazz" radio stations played music like this, they'd be giving jazz enthusiasts something worthy of their attention.

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