Sometimes it’s just nice to sit down and listen to some hot hard-bop played by musicians who don’t normally get the opportunity to play the music they love. It’s not that they’re not good enough to play hard-bop, quite the contrary, it’s because their talents are so ample they are frequently called upon by others to play music of more popular styles. Who can blame them; popular styles pay more than hard-bop. Thankfully what we have here in Foundations is a quintet of just these kinds of musicians given the chance to let-their-hair-down.
Trumpeter Curt Ramm has not only played with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Justin Timberlake and Patti LaBelle, but has also done sound design and mixed music for Rascall Flats and Time-Life medical videos. Saxophonist Dan Moretti has worked with Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Mike Stern, Dave Samuels, Dave Liebman, Marvin Stamm, and The Crusaders. Keyboardist Bill Cunliffe is quickly becoming not only one of the East and West coast’s hottest arrangers as well as an artist who has worked with Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Sommers, Judy Chamberlain and Lauren White. The three have brought in accomplished bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards (Gary Burton) to lay down the rhythmic foundation.
In the tradition of the great hard-bop leaders like Art Blakey and Horace Silver, there’s not a bad track on the album. Combining their compositional efforts, each of the eleven tunes provides not just a launching point for the solos, but are, more importantly, great tunes in their own right. The Ramm and Cunliffe composition "Little Bit" leads things off. Cunliffe’s opening solo is full of short tangential points that swing off of the main exploratory motive presented in the opening melody. Ramm’s solo starts with the same motivic idea explored by Cunliffe before throwing-down and letting the ideas build into long extended ripping phrases. When it’s Moretti’s turn he begins from the same point Ramm left off and continues to develop those long phrases into finished conceptualizations. Throughout Ballou’s rock-solid harmonic foundation and Richards’ brush technique are flawless. It’s so rare to hear jazz drummers work with brushes anymore, and even more so to hear them work with them in so musical a manner, but Richards is a monster and his playing on this cut alone is worth the price of the CD.
The rest of this fantastic album is more of the same. Moretti’s "K-Funk" finds the musicians working their hard-bop proclivities into a groove-oriented format with Cunliffe’s Hammond B-3 showing off his soulful side. Other highlights include "Vine Street," with Cunliffe’s Fender Rhodes blazing on a tune that would have fit perfectly into Charles Earland’s book, and "Birmingham Blue," a blues-march variant where Cunliffe’s advanced half-step and altered harmonic chordal thoughts get full reign. For those who want to hear musicians being musicians, in other words getting on top of your game and going for it, you can do no better than listen to "Zone Seven."