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Randy Sabien

Rhythm and Bows

Review by Gary Hill

Rhythm and Bows is the latest CD by Randy Sabien. Billed as a “jazz” violinist, Sabien shows that he’s not willing to be tied down to any one musical motif. Genre labels are for lesser musicians, serving as border guards on their talents. Yes, the majority of this disc fits under the jazz banner, but Sabien doesn’t seem to feel any pressure to kiss up to the genre god. Instead he borrows from country, folk and ethnic traditions to create a sound that’s unique to him. The blues gets some healthy servings on this disc, too. That really doesn’t require special mention, though because, as one of my music teachers was fond of saying, “you can have the blues without jazz, but you can’t have jazz without the blues.”

The one glue that binds all this music together is Randy Sabien. His presence is felt not only in terms of his violin playing, but also in terms of his sense of musical adventure and style. Only three of the songs on the CD are original compositions of Sabien’s, but all bear his signature in terms of their treatment. He even covers a couple tunes by the Grateful Dead. The end result is a CD that should be of interest to fans of all eras of jazz but should find an audience outside that group, too.  Sabien  is joined on this CD by Jeff Eckels (bass), Dan Kleiman (keyboard), Dane Richeson (drums, percussion), Clyde Stubblefied (drums) and special guest Matt Turner on cello. The musicians create a blend of music that will often surprise, usually captivate and never bore. This is powerful jazz for a new generation of fans

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Money From A Stranger
He starts things off with an original composition. This a killer jazz jam with a hint of Southern rock and country at its core. The Dixie Dregs would be a good comparison. Sabien’s violin weaves melody and tells its tale with an emotion and an energy that can’t be beat.

Cozy Beat
This has a serious down home hoe down motif. It’s an intriguing track that’s a lot of fun and feels like it could be heard on the Grand Ol Opry.  It shifts more towards pure jazz in the middle of the track, but that swinging down home style remains throughout.
Infra Rae
Here we get a number that comes in with more energy, feeling perhaps a bit like Jean-Luc Ponty at first. It shifts out to more traditional jazz as they carry on. It’s a great way to keep things interesting by changing it up. There is a tasty traditional jazz piano solo segment in this number. In a true musical tour-de-force, we also get a guitar solo on this piece works through several variants wandering into fusion territory as it does. This runs through a mellower motif for a time and then Sabien comes out just flying through the progressions and variations. His soloing is punctuated by some inspired drum work.
Stella Blue
A cover of the Grateful Dead song (or perhaps more accurately an interpretation) this one begins with a mellow guitar ballad approach. The violin cries and sings over the top as they carry forward. This stays slow and thoughtful, but is packed with emotion and beauty nonetheless.

Downhill from Diddley Squat
Another original, this is a fast paced, vaguely Southern toned jam that’s another that has a bit in common with the Dregs. This is a killer track and one of the best numbers on show here – twang and all. They shift out into some great fusion territory after a while and then turn it a little funky later. We are treated to a cool percussion solo later and then they take it into a light-hearted hoe-down to finish things off.
Clyde-O-Scope
I hear the Jean-Luc Ponty textures a bit on the intro here, but it’s also got plenty of that country twang and some older school jazz, too. The track includes a cool piano solo. It is the final Sabien penned number.
New Speedway Boogie
I like this killer jam (the other Dead cover) a lot. It has more of a fusion sound mixed in with southern rock – as opposed to pure country like some of the other tunes. I love the section where this moves out into space. It includes a jazz take on Dead like space jams that’s quite intriguing. We get some rather Arabic sounding melodies in the midst of this. It also turns a bit towards Hawkwind type sounds for a while.
Nature Boy
At almost nine and a half minutes this is the longest number on the CD. The violin brings it in (appropriately with the sounds of nature as accompaniment). I almost swear that Sabien is quoting some of the sounds from Jimmy Page’s violin bow solo on The Song Remains The Same here.  In any event, a violin solo, this early portion moves through sounds that range from near rock music to classical and jazz. We even get hints of Celtic sounds and he creates a bouncy little groove later. At about 2:15 piano joins and the composition shifts off more into a club jazz. Percussion and bass also join and they swing and sway through some great musical creation. This thing purely screams out later. I really enjoy the groove they get into as this song works from one motif to another. They pull it down a long ways later and we get some more of those middle Eastern tones here and there. This is dramatic and quite cool.
Cliffs of Dover
Folk meets country in a jazz arrangement on this fun number. It’s high energy and very tasty. We get a tasty guitar solo that’s much more in a rock motif than jazz. This goes over quite a bit of musical ground, like a lot of the material on the CD.
Whispering Pines
This is more like a powerful rock ballad in its approach. It’s quite pretty. This doesn’t wander far, but when it’s this good, who cares? It’s a satisfying conclusion to a great disc and at times reminds me a bit of something from Derek and the Dominoes.
 
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