Sam Barsh draws from an eclectic group of influences to form his own distinctive blend of jazz, with touches of ambient music and rhythm and blues in the sapient mix. His debut release as bandleader, entitled I Forgot What You Taught Me on Razdaz Recordz, shows a lot of promise as he creates an enjoyable aural soundscape in the included thirteen original compositions. In his CD liner notes, he explains how he arrived at the title. He writes in rhyme: "It has taken me many more years and a lot of habit-breaking To forget the rules, and maximize my love for music-making." He then thanks his music teachers, but states he has to make his own plan and forget what he was taught.
"Plans Change" is perhaps the best song on the entire disc and is presented twice in different forms. It has a happy-go-lucky piano groove featuring a repeating catchy melody that approaches a somewhat pensive mood. It reminds me of some of the finest avant-garde work of Frank Zappa ("Peaches En Regalia" era) when he had an outstanding set of musicians surrounding him, but with a funky twist reminiscent of George Duke, Joe Sample or Stevie Wonder (especially on the reprise with its harmonica sounding melodica).
"Wake Up and Smile" has vibes by Tim Collins pushing a groove-laden feel that is intensified when Barsh adds some fine melodica and is again Zappa-like (a good thing). The bass work by Ari Folman-Cohen on this one is very nice and the drums and cymbals provided by Jaimeo Brown add further to the groove. It’s another very good song. "nuTrance" starts with a sleepy ambiance of a slow droning keyboard that gets taken into overdrive when the drums kick in and the keyboards follow along. It is aptly named, as it is trance-like with the rhythm section mixed low in the background.
"George Dub" stumbles along like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk for a brief time. "Rainy Day Jam" is also a brief number that seems to be over almost before it’s begun. It does, however, feature some nice interplay between the keys and vibes. "Jew Hefner" is another short loop, but it sets up the next number, "Between Dead and Alive," very well. On "Between," Barsh’s melodica sounds equal part accordian and harmonica and it would fit in nicely on a Tom Waits release.
"Rainy Day Loop" does give the feel of setting at a window watching the raindrops fall outside (a prevalent atmosphere on this disc). Like Jimi Hendrix said "lay back and groove on a rainy day." "Harriet Nyborg" will get Steely Dan comparisons, which also is a good thing, perhaps because Donald Fagen also makes good use of his melodica. This tune invokes a light jazzy atmosphere with the entire group adding to the aura. Collins’s vibework is splendid and distinctive, and the drumming of Jaimeo Brown is first-rate.
In summation, this CD is a highly enjoyable debut effort, and shows great promise for the future of the group. With the catchy melodies Barsh has written along with the fine musicianship displayed throughout, I for one am extremely happy that he forgot what he was taught and did it his own way.