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CD REVIEW: The Black Bottom by Theo Czuk

This twelve song collection is subtitled Cultivating Jazz: The Full Measure and Detroit born, Oregon based songwriter/novelist/poet Theo Czuk means it. His mastery of the idiom doesn’t just extend to his musical merits – the lyrical material he’s offered up for The Black Bottom’s songs has every bit of the same substance and seems ideally written for the arrangements. Czuk obviously has great connections as the collaborators he’s enlisted to help bring The Black Bottom to reality obviously following Miles Davis’ oft-quoted dictum that the notes you don’t play matter much more than those you do and the artistic tastefulness implied in such an approach makes this release memorably atmospheric. Czuk’s talents with prose, poetry, and songwriting means many things, but it also means he has the wherewithal to attack this material from a variety of angles while never seeming out of sorts or straining for credibility.

Most of the album is devoted to lyrically driven works, but the title song and album opener “The Black Bottom” is a clearly conceived instrumental that will entertain even the biggest singing fans. Czuk’s instrumentals are never overwrought or self-indulgent. He intuitively understands that audiences want something to hang their melodic hats on and the combination of fleet fingered organ work along with the memorable bass figure more than fills that role for listeners. “Cold Corridor” is one of the album’s major songs, its third longest, and expends a lot of energy invoking atmosphere with positive effects. The hard boiled lyric gets added charisma and personality from Czuk’s delivery. “Mi Casa Bossa” is one of the more successful instrumental tracks on The Black Bottom and the light Latin flavor to the arrangement, coupled with the colorful use of woodwinds, makes this one of the album’s more melodic lilting numbers.

“Nika Nightingale (Is It Real?)” has a light bounce that many will love and a combination of seriousness and playfulness certain to exert similar appeal. The generous guitar work laid into the song never overreaches its mandate and enhances everything, but it’s the drumming that really holds everything together. Kenneth Patchen’s original poem makes for a great lyric on the song “Lunch Wagon on Highway 57” and Czuk’s impassioned delivery helps it make an even deeper impact. The song is intended to serve as an example from the jazz school marrying Beat poetry with the genre’s musical texture and it’s definitely a resounding success on that level, but it isn’t merely some academic exercise and has real feeling driving the performance. Things take on a much bluesier, moody tone with the track “Midnight ‘Round” and it makes for one of the album’s most effective instrumentals. Musical highlights include subtle drumming and delicate interplay between the horns and keyboards. The instruments really achieve a memorable dance here that makes for one of the best moments on The Black Bottom. There’s a much more lush style characterizing the track “Pi to the ‘Nth Degree”, but the bluesy mood remains intact and will pull you into its web with little effort. Theo Czuk’s The Black Bottom is a rare experience in 21st century popular music – an astonishingly literary infused work with marvelous musical substance filling every tune.

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/the-black-bottom/1256523578

by William Elgin

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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