Sunday, November 9, 2008

Crawling the Walls reviewed by Mark Thompson

Crawling the Walls
Dave Gross
SwingNation Records
11 tracks/51:04

Dave Gross continues to stake his claim as a blues renaissance man. This superbly gifted musician serves up another package brimming with exciting performances that are deeply rooted in the tradition. Gross favors the jump blues format popularized in Texas and the west coast. It’s a style that features plenty of horns and Dave consistently proves to be a skillful arranger and songwriter for the multi-instrumental format. He even found time to produce the project, recorded live in the studio.

The disc opens with a cover of “It’s My Life, Baby”, a tune that was a big hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland. Gross turns in a powerful vocal and coaxes plenty of biting licks from his guitar. He rocks at a frantic pace on “Rock in My Shoe” , horns blasting away and Mike Lattrell pounding the piano keys. The pace slows down on an Ike Turner instrumental, “Cubano Jump”, with more stellar guitar work from Gross and the horn section.

Gross has assembled an exceptional group of horn players for this project. They are some of the finest traditional jazz players in the New York/New Jersey area and Gross takes full advantage of their talent. Dave has a deep love for traditional jazz and proves it with several stunning interpretations that evoke the sound of old New Orleans.

On the title track, a slow drag tribute to insomnia penned by Dave, Jon-Erik Kellso blows a superb muted trumpet solo while Gerry Niewood expertly weaves his clarinet into the arrangement. Gross switches to acoustic guitar on “It Was Born in the 20”s”, another original that takes a gentle stroll down memory lane. The focus is on the guitar interplay between Gross and Matt Munisteri. Conal Fowkes adds some fine stride piano.

The real masterpiece is “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home”. It starts at a slower tempo through the first verse and chorus. Then Kellso grabs your attention with another sharp solo. Suddenly Fowkes’ piano picks up the pace to a ragtime beat and Scott Robinson bursts into the proceedings with a masterful baritone sax solo. Munisteri picks a bit on his banjo before Niewood calls everybody home on the clarinet. The piece closes with a group improvisation between the horns that will take your breath away.

Gross channels T-Bone Walker on “Don’t Take Too Long” and he delves deep into the Chicago blues tradition on “Find Yourself Another Man”. Dennis Gruenling contributes his expert harmonica work on both tracks and Latrell’s piano shines on the latter track. Dave’s guitar sports a big fat tone and he fires off incendiary solos on both cuts.

It is amazing that a 23 year-old musician could have such a finely developed understanding of by-gone styles of music. That he is able to single-handedly bring all of the elements of this project together in a fresh and vibrant updating of the tradition is an accomplishment of the highest order. An amazing recording and one of the year’s best !!!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great review, kowing Dave as a friend musically since he was sixteen has been a treat watching him grow into his own style spiced and handled with such great respect for the early musicians of blues, swing and jazz. His passion continues. Danny C.