One of the pleasures of reviewing jazz CDs is coming upon something new and unexpected. Such is the case with Frain/Dunlap’s impressive debut recording, Pull the Shades
. The Massachusetts based duo create a vibrant, textured sound that combines elements of fusion with straight-ahead and latin jazz. Berklee educated guitarist David Frain is a veritable encyclopedia of styles; one detects in his playing influences as diverse as George Benson, Mike Stern, Charlie Byrd, Pat Martino, and John Scofield, but Frain forges an identity all his own. Bassist Mark Dunlop is equally impressive, performing on both electric and upright bass. His presence is constantly felt, yet never intrusive.
Lending support to the two leaders are a rotating cast of sidemen, all of whom contribute superb performances. Some worth noting are Doug Sondak’s thrilling flute on the Brazilian "Close To Your Heart," Stephen Page’s piano on the title track and "Choices", and Paul Makuch’s rock steady drumming. These are only some of the outstanding performances that grace this superior set. Perhaps the album's only weakness lies in the fact that, except for a version of Monk’s "Round Midnight," the album is entirely made up of originals. While the writing on the album is quite good, it isn’t quite up to the standard set by the performances. Some of the tunes aren’t terribly memorable, and considering the caliber of the musicians, this seems a pity. Nevertheless, there are several standout moments, in particular the above mentioned version of "Round Midnight" (which shows just what these musicians can do with really good material), and "Warm Light Zone," which features the tenor saxophone of Mark Weissman and the thundering drums of Makaya McCraven. Pull the Shades
is an excellent first step on what one hopes will be a long journey for these talented young performers. Let us sincerely hope that they have a chance to be widely heard and continue to improve with each new release.