Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs

Listening to this project In my car, I was immediately impressed by the drummer on this session. I was driving, so I hadn’t pre-read the publicity notes or looked at the CD cover credits. I just popped the disc into my player. This is an album of grooves and funk; fire and spice with bursts of creativity like whispering voices in the background or saxophone sweetness added at unexpected times.

There’s a lot of synthesized music, with Taber Gable strongly present on piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizer. Matt Dwonszyk locks the rhythm section in place with his strong bass licks. Andrew Renfroe plays a mean guitar on cut #3. When I look to see who composed that song, it was none other than Renfroe.

Jonathan Barber has composed eight of the twelve songs on his debut recording. Some tunes remind me of modern jazz, others are more contemporary. You get a sense that these young musicians have listened to the likes of George Duke and Herbie Hancock. They like to groove. Jonathan Barber is the powerhouse behind this group, always at the forefront of their energy and persuasive with his drum licks and percussive powers. Vision Ahead is a tribute to his dead brother who he unexpectedly lost in November of 2016.

“My music not only helped me through my grieving process but sparked a fresh musical style in hopes of carrying on the spirit of this American art form; jazz.”

Barber is a terrific and gifted drummer. His songwriting skills are more grooves than substance. I didn’t find many melodies that leant themselves to being easily repeated. Some are extremely complicated, like the 7th cut, “Airport” where Barber adds vocals to his resumé. He penned the lyrics on this Eldar Djangirov composition. Eldar is a super-talented young pianist who has been Grammy nominated. The intervals of this song are challenging and Barber has added a huge amount of echo to this production. Is that to mask his vocal shortcomings or for the effect of the huge, hollow buildings that house airport facilities?

“Time Will Tell” adds the pretty background voices of Denise Renee and Sasha Foster, rich and warm, proffering a hip-hop groove wrapped around Barber’s drum expressions. He sings on this tune also. I prefer the singing he does on his drum kit. Once again, this composition is repetitious to a fault. For the most part, Barber’s compositions are strictly grooves that make for pleasant listening and background music. But there are no Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard standard jazz tunes on this album. There is, however, some serious and outstanding drumming taking place.
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