David Chesky describes the new collection of songs by an eclectic collection of artists as "an organic polyrhythmic entity" and "a multi-tiered amalgamation of grooves..." So, what you have before you is one of those albums you don't quite know where to put in your record collection -- part jazz, part funk, part "world". Backed by some of the more talented musicians around, including trumpet player Randy Brecker and conga maestro Giovanni Hidalgo, Chesky takes the listener down a road that is never traveled twice and is extremely interesting, challenging, and rewarding as a result.
The first thing you notice about the album is how at nearly 70 minutes and with only eight songs, you are going to get a lot of winding, twisting, and improvisation on these lengthy tunes. Beginning with the nine-minute "52nd2 Street", Brecker and bass clarinet player Bob Mintzer play off each other before one gives way to the other for an interesting, mellow sound. Chesky plays a simple and repetitive segment in the distance while Hidalgo keeps a very solid percussion rhythm going. The only person really not playing a prominent part early on is bass player Andy Gonzalez, but he will have lots of time to later on. It's this low-key mellow atmosphere that keeps the listener tuned in.
Perhaps what makes the early songs work so well is the flow within each. On "East Harlem" for example, Hidalgo works in tandem with Gonzalez to create the Latin jazz backdrop as Mintzer chimes in along with Chesky's subtle ivory touches. Here the ensemble resembles early Dave Brubeck with its low-key yet meticulous groove. Each note adds to the tune's greater good with Chesky stealing the spotlight with more of a rampant style two minutes in. He slowly backs away, though, before someone else picks up the proverbial football and runs with it. The Body Acoustic isn't writing a new book of jazz, they are basically editing and fusing some of the genre's greatest assets into a new cohesive whole. "Bronxville" is another infectious and simple groove that rarely falters. The only problem is how laidback the musicians are on this song, almost becoming too mellow despite some terrific work by Hidalgo near the homestretch.
The Body Acoustic gets things going again with a great "Hell's Kitchen". By this time you realize all of the names involve New York City and, although not quite the standard jazz package, The Body Acoustic clearly create a sense of the city's various areas as if you were shuffling through any of them on a dark, foggy evening. Brecker takes a great deal of talent to the proceedings here. He also lets loose more on his trumpet with a jazzy improvised style before the song peters out. The highlight is the punchy and robust "New York Descargas" that wastes little time wanting you to move your head or bob around in your chair. The song takes a more distinct Latin or salsa flair as well for great results. Brecker also brings to mind some jazz greats with his runs and fills.
The only moment where things come to be rather weak is the repetitive and at times arduous "Acoustic Metal", lacking any of the verve or chutzpah to make it at least mildly interesting. Thankfully, the Body Acoustic rights the ship with the slightly more rambunctious "N.Y.Cool", which is very cool indeed in that quiet jazz club manner. Overall though, the Body Acoustic is a strong collection that reminds the listener that jazz like this is still timeless.