Acme Jazz Garage (Solar Grooves SG-001) is available here.
“Without a doubt, Acme Jazz Garage is the Tampa Bay area’s most adventurous jazz band. Its debut recording project finds the 5-year-old quartet in a jam-band groove, dipping its collective toes into straight-ahead jazz, Latin-tinged funk, R&B and a more modern jazz/fusion sound.
Bassist Philip Booth, drummer Tim Diehl, keyboard ace Bryan Lewis and guitarist Matt Swenson comprise the core band on this eponymous session, with a little help on various tracks from a variety of musical friends with whom the players have worked over the years. Lewis’s keyboard work, particularly on Hammond B-3, and Swenson’s melodic, often searing, guitar, dominate the group sound, layered over an infectious groove set by Booth and Diehl.
And who, you ask, stopped by to have a bit of fun on this session? Singer Whitney James is featured on Booth’s Manhattan romance- and-bebop-inspired “Last Call.” Veteran Al Di Meola percussionist Gumbi Ortiz spices up “Mongo Strut” and “Mongo Jam.” Jeremy Powell, now making his mark on the New York jazz scene in a variety of top-flight bands, is featured on soprano sax on “Sandprints,” a clever 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter’s best-known jazz classic “Footprints.”
Saxophonists Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey, vibes player Sam Koppelman and trumpeter Ron Wilder also bulk up the band on a variety of tracks, most notably “Zag,” “”Rubberman” and “Mr. G.P.,” the latter a N’awlins groove tribute to The Meters’ bassist George Porter Jr.
From start to finish, Acme Jazz Garage and friends make it clear that the Tampa area is blessed with great jazz talent.
–KEN FRANCKLING, author/photographer, “Jazz in the Key of Light”; Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes; contributor, JazzTimes, Hot House, allaboutjazz.com
“Have you ever had a CD get stuck in your player? Not physically, but because it is so darn good you need to hear it over and over again?
That’s what happened when I popped the new recording from Acme Jazz Garage into the player. I’ve seen these guys in different settings, from purely straight ahead to all-out funk, but I simply wasn’t prepared for a disc this superb, start to finish.
They come out swinging straight out of the starting gate with “Mongo Strut,” a reworking of a tune by bassist Philip Booth. This jazz/funk outing features guest percussionist Gumbo Ortiz, long a Tampa Bay area star and Al Di Meola bandmate. Bryan Lewis gives his clavinet a workout, and Ortiz and drummer Tim Diehl are in perfect sync, powered by Booth’s electric bass.
The next track, “Resonance,” still blows me away, and that’s after more than a dozen times through the disc. Composer Lewis opens with electric piano, and then Matt Swenson gets to work. His playing throughout is nothing short of spectacular. This tune goes through a variety of changes, and he nails every one. Booth and Diehl are a monster rhythm section. Lewis takes a great solo as well.
“Sandprints” is Booth’s homage to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” magnificently rendered with Jeremy Powell on soprano saxophone. Powell is another Tampa Bay area jewel who moved to New York. (Jeremy and NYC trumpeter brother Jonathan played with Booth in Ghetto Love Sugar). Rick Runion, a fine tenor player from Lakeland, plays harmony with Jeremy here. The track begins with Booth’s beautiful double bass tones, then Jeremy and the band join in.
Booth adds a vocal tune to the mix with “Last Call,” his impressions of New York City during his time there and historically as well. Whitney James is the singer here, and her voice perfectly accents Booth’s lyrics. The tune also features vibraphonist Sam Koppelman, a truly impressive player whose contributions here and on “Zag” are first-rate. Ron Wilder plays trumpet… and he was Booth’s jazz instructor back in the day!
“Zag” is a gorgeous tune Booth used to play with Trio Vibe. Koppelman is perfect here, and Austin Vickrey and Runion join in on tenors, with a solo from Vickrey. This song swings so hard, driven by Booth on bass. Beautiful acoustic piano from Lewis adds to the sheer delight of this track.
Booth next honors George Porter, Jr., the king of New Orleans bass players and a member of the legendary Meters, with “Mr. G.P.” (a reference to Coltrane’s tune “Mr. P.C.”). If you’re going to do NOLA, you’re gonna need a horn section: Wilder, Runion, and Vickrey (this time on baritone sax). Swenson takes another blistering guitar turn while Booth and Diehl channel that second-line rhythm.
Badass bass launches “Rubberman,” the oldest tune in Acme Jazz Garage’s repertoire. Vickrey plays gorgeous flute here with Runion on tenor. Lewis stands out on Hammond B3 organ, funk dripping from every note. Diehl nails this one, and Swenson delivers a beautiful solo invoking so many great jazz guitarists. Booth gets an extended feature as well.
“Acmefied” opens with a nifty drum roll into the tune, another fine funky jazz piece. Swenson again channels the masters beautifully, and Diehl’s work on the kit is of special note. Lewis comps underneath with great electric piano.
Lewis arranged a very bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” which was released in time for Independence Day. His gospel-tinged Hammond B3 provides a very different reading of this, reminiscent perhaps of Ray Charles.
The disc closes with a percussion workout with Diehl and Ortiz, “Mongo Jam,” a logical extension of the opening tune.
This wonderful recording was enhanced by the remarkable production job done at the Springs Theatre, where local Tampa musicians have been producing music of the highest quality.
“The influences felt scattered (which is good), but the song ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan. That, too, is a good thing. Oh, and (I hear) hints of the Crusaders now and again. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”
—LOUIS MAISTROS, New Orleans singer/songwriter and writer, author of acclaimed novel “The Sound of Building Coffins,” and former jazz record store owner