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Michael Feinberg’s third and latest CD, titled The Elvin Jones Project, was inspired by John Coltrane’s rhythm section: Feinberg’s favorite drummer, Elvin Jones. While Feinberg perused Jones’s catalog, he found himself drawn to the chemistry the legendary percussionist had with an array of bassists. He also learned that many of his favorite bassists had meaningful relationships with Jones. These relationships became the root for this CD. Though the 25-year-old bassist/bandleader, who was born and raised in Alabama and Georgia, hasn’t been on the NYC jazz scene, he’s begun to make a name for himself. Since earning his bachelor of music degree from the University of Miami and later his master’s from NYU, Feinberg has played alongside jazz greats like jazz guitarist John Scofield, jazz drummer Jim Black, trumpeter Peter Evans and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour among others. The Elvin Jones Project, which was released on Sept. 11, 2011, was inspired by the relationship Jones fostered with bassists Jimmy Garrison, Gene Perla, George Mraz, Richard Davis and Dave Holland. Feinberg wanted to create an ensemble that channeled those connections, so he enlisted drummer Billy Hart to substitute for the deceased Jones. Feinberg chose Hart because he had been close friends with Jones, felt Jones’s technique had rubbed off on him and because Hart played with a style similar to Jones, one that focused on the 1 where other drummers usually focus on the 4. The other members Feinberg recruited include saxophonist George Garzone, who also co-produced the album, trumpeter Tim Hagans, keyboardist Lee Genovese and guest guitarist Alex Wintz.
The opening track, “Earth Jones,” has an electric/techno vibe mixed with a magical tone provided by Genovese’s Rhodes and Feinberg’s resolute bass. Hart’s drumming might feel a tad ominous to listeners, who could picture hearing this song in a movie where the lead character is wandering aimlessly through the streets, contemplating the next step is his or her life. “Taurus People” starts off with a duet between Feinberg’s bass and Hart’s drums. It’s a pleasant balance between group collaboration and solos, most notably from Genovese’s swift keyboard skills and Garzone’s fervent sax play. “Miles Mode” is a Coltrane Quartet staple. Feinberg decided to arrange the song to play off of Garrison’s inspiration. It’s a rowdy rendition featuring a spirited solo from Garzone that echoes Coltrane’s signature blues rhythm. “The Unknighted Nations” is a departure from the earlier tracks with its hip groove and solos from guest guitarist Wintz and Hart’s cool drumming, which fuse well. Then, Hagans’s trumpet enters the melody, announcing itself with zeal as Feinberg’s bass comes in the background. Yet, Hart’s drumming remains a commanding presence. Composer Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Nancy with the Laughing Face” begins with Feinberg’s intimate bass playing accompanied by Genovese tapping away on his keyboard. It’s a lovely ballad that could be heard in an old black-and-white movie where the lead is thinking about their true love. Finally, “Three Card Molly” is an upbeat danceable ditty that listeners could envision hearing on the next season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars as the couples dance the Quickstep or the Cha-Cha.
To conclude, I believe The Elvin Jones Project from Michael Feinberg successfully invokes Jones’s texture and method and Jones would have given it his stamp of approval.