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Published: 2001/12/19
by Michael Lello

Orbituary – Java Men

With instrumental jazz and funk all the rage, Java Men should have no
trouble finding receptive ears among fans of groups like Soulive and Medeski, Martin, and Wood.
This trio – Todd Hildreth (keys), Ray Rizzo (drums and guitars) and
Craig Wagner
(guitars) – knows the value of a well-placed groove, and the result is the
smart and infectious
record, "Orbituary".
The opener and title track immediately hooks the listener with an eerie
guitar figure and some Santana-like organ. Rizzo noodles about in the background until he lays down a swing beat. What proceeds is essentially a straight ahead jazz number. Next up is The Maja Ven with
Wagner doing his best Pat Metheny impersonation, at least in terms of his
guitar tone. Hildreth is
quick to chime in, playing a simple, pleasant organ melody before Wagner
reclaims the spotlight.
All the while, Rizzo is playing some hot yet understated Latin beats. His
drumming is versatile,
tasteful and adds a lot of vast colors to the trio’s sounds.
It’s worth noting that the
production on his guitar
throughout the album is very unique. It’s jazzy, but lacks some of the
snappiness one would expect
from a jazz guitar sound. In fact, there seems to be a sonic cloud around the
guitar sound, and this
is frustrating, whether or not it was intended. Despite that imperfection,
the three instruments are
mixed well.
The Rhythm Schism is another traditional swing jazz band number. Rizzo
plays a swing
beat on the ride cymbal and Hildreth plays some runs up and down the scales
until the band slows
down and settles into a bluesier feel. Five is a joyous Caribbean jaunt
and the piece that owes
the least to traditional jazz. Here, Wagner’s tone, especially on the higher
notes, is curiously
clearer. Hildreth shines on piano for the first time and displays that he’s
not just a fine organ
player. His piano work is tasteful and bluesy. During Hildreth’s first solo,
it appears that Wagner
switches to an upright bass to add support before jumping back on the
electric guitar. Now, that
previous, cloudy tone is back. But his notes are beautiful and uplifting.
It’s quite an accomplishment for a jazz trio to pull of such a full sound
without the benefit
of a proper bassist. Credit Wagner and Hildreth for filling those wholes.
Overall, the Java Men’s Orbituary is not an album only for jazz fans.
In fact, it may be
too modern to appease some jazz traditionalists. There is, however, enough
here to appeal to jam
fans, rock fans and blues fans alike. Orbituary showcases all three
members’ instrumental
abilities, but also shows these guys aren’t content to just lay down thick,
dance-inducing grooves.
There’s some dark stuff here, some ballads, and yes, some joyous funk. A
smorgasbord of
emotions, and sounds, if you will.

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