Founder and leader, pianist/vibraphonist Roger Burn has spent the past few years working with artists including Lionel Richie, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Bryan Adams, Stevie Nicks and Barry Manilow. After buying a grand piano in 2000, Burns rediscovered his jazz roots, and decided to put together a band to help realize this interest. In no time the group had expanded to a six-piece and was polishing its sound at regular gigs. Each member is an accomplished live/studio musician in his own right, and brings a wealth of performance and compositional skill to the group.
One of the elements that makes Shapes sound distinct is harmonica player Tollak Ollestad. His use of traditional, chromatic and bass harmonicas provides an unusual and appealing texture throughout the album.
To help provide additional energy, production ideas and overall expertise, the group hired Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, after he stood in on a couple of dates when bassist Dean Taba was unavailable. Some of the post-bop tunes on the record, in particular "Train’s A Comin’" and "It Is, But It Isn’t", sound like tunes that could comfortably fit in the Yellowjackets’ acoustic repertoire. Haslip also plays fretless bass on two tracks.
Guitarist Michael Higgins can bop with the best, and his solo on "Wise Guys", with its warm, round hollow body guitar sound pays tribute to some of his early influences, including Joe Pass and Barney Kessel. On the title track the Duane Eddy-like twang of his Telecaster and guest Doug Livingston on pedal steel lend authenticity to the tune’s country feel.
Multi-reed/flute player Andy Suzuki, in addition to beautifully constructed solos like his soprano break in the up tempo samba "Second Wind", and some scorching tenor saxophone on the post-bop "Doin’ Bits", provides reed and flute section work on pieces like the Brazilian-flavoured "How His Heart Sang" and the Americana-inflected "Time Passing".
Acoustic bassist Dean Taba and drummer Michael Barsimanto drive the band, as capable of straight ahead swing on "Train’s A Comin’", as light bossa nova on the two versions of "Night Bloom", one featuring Flora Purim on vocals and Airto Moreira on drums, the other with guest Yellowjackets pianist Russell Ferrante.
Remarkably, with the variety of styles on the album, there is a cohesiveness that gives it a unified sound, due in no small part to a strong group identity honed from playing together for so long before recording. There is a lot of chemistry to be found on The Last Farewell, and Shapes is a group to keep watching.
The Last Farewell receives general release in August, 2003, but is available now through their website, www.shapesmusic.com.