John Altenburgh

Vol. 2

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Pianist Altenburgh is a composer and arranger with broadly based taste, in and out of jazz. Influences derived from either pop or R&B creep into his zone of taste, and there's a bit of electronica as well. Varying in range and effectiveness, not to mention originalty, there's a lack of spark that makes some of the music less than compelling. Still, Altenburgh, tenor saxophonist John Greiner, bassists Jeff Eckels and Mark Farrell, drummer Mark Ladley, and select guests all play well on this 36-minute, eight-cut program. When they're at their best, a melodic swing รก la the neo-bop strain of Chick Corea and Michael Brecker can be heard. "1960," for instance, shifts and downshifts from second & third gear, with vibes from Robert Stright adding to the brighter notes in the piece. "Herkimer County" starts a bit tentative but locks into a good swing with nice unison tenor-piano and vocal lines from Altenburgh -- an engaging sound. The quartet swings easily, but sounds rather bland and nonplussed on "Fran's Back." Altenburgh slips into a boogie on "The Scott Street Shuffle" with his solo piano, hand claps, and a vocal sextet. Drums and piano sound polite (rather than down and dirty), for a half-hearted New Orleans shuffle "Jim & Elly's Summer Vacation." A typical gospel blues waltz reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live closing theme with drums, guitar, and bass from members of the Petrified Alien Brain Blues Band codifies "Coastin' Home." Greiner's EWI woodwind synthesizer sounds squirrely during "Pete the Pontiac," while drummer Matt Mattioli joins Altenburgh's easy sea synth washes on "Indian Summer." Transcending influence is tough, much less creating truly original music and sound. At times, an attempt to play something that pleases everyone falls short on some musical level. Judging from this release, however, the talented Altenburgh comes closer than most.

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