Acme Jazz Garage Show Off Shiny New Album Sunday at The Palladium
A lot has happened since March 2020. That was certainly true for Acme Jazz Garage, the jazz quartet from Tampa. Prior to the beginning of the pandemic, Acme Jazz Garage released a spectacular video to accompany a new song, “Rumba Misterioso.” Then the live music scene collapsed under the weight of COVID-19. The group’s long-standing gig at Timpano’s closed, along with the restaurant. And keyboard master Bryan Lewis moved to New York.
Fortunately, the band had several other songs ready for release. “Sharkskin” was issued in April of 2020, then “Phil’s Blues” in June. And there was a lot of activity we didn’t learn about until the group announced the release of their album Sharkskin, which came out in August.
This afternoon at 4 p.m., Acme Jazz Garage will finally have the opportunity to play the music of Sharkskin before a live audience at The Palladium in St. Petersburg. The core of the band — Lewis, Philip Booth, and Matt Swenson — will be augmented Jody Marsh, the group’s new keyboard player, saxophonist Rick Runion, and drummer Dave Rudolph, plus special guest Shelby Sol on vocals. The plan is to play the album during the first set, then other material during the second.
With that in mind, let’s dive into Sharkskin, released on Solar Grooves. The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by John Stephan at the historic Springs Theatre in Sulphur Springs, Tampa.
Personnel for the album: Matt Swenson, guitar; Bryan Lewis, Steinway grand piano, Hammond B3 organ, synthesizer; Philip Booth, double bass, Fender Precision fretless bass guitar, French horn; Pat Close, drums; Dave Reinhardt, drums; Michael Washington, congas, percussion; Jeremy Powell, tenor sax; Shelby Sol, vocals; Peggy Morris, flute; Christian Taylor Ryan, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Rick Runion, tenor saxophone; Jen Peacock Ryan, trumpet; Alex Belliveau, trombone.
Lewis opens “Sharkskin Suit” [Booth, Lewis, Swenson] (7:25) on Steinway. Since the time of its original release, several layers were added to the track, near perfect to begin with. Swenson’s plaintive guitar moves the song along, with Booth on fretless bass guitar. He also adds French horn, and instrument he has dusted off since the shutdown, to great effect. You can also hear Lewis’ synths weave in an out. Washington and Close make a great rhythm team. Lewis’ piano solo is simply magnificent.
“Watching the River Flow” [Bob Dylan] (6:21) is a bluesy rocker featuring the vocal stylings of Shelby Sol. Booth’s double bass sounds so full, so warm here. Lewis is on B3, the tune propelled by Reinhardt of drums. Both Lewis and Swenson swing away on this one.
“Rumba Misterioso” [Booth] (7:37) We’ll cheat here, because we can’t improve on what we said first time out:
It is a wonderful blend of traditional and modern Latin jazz, connecting the dots from Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri to Maqueque and Miguel Zenon. Close and Washington enter first, followed by Booth and Lewis. The solos by Swenson and Lewis and flourishes from Lewis all depend upon the pulsating rhythm created by Close, Washington, and Booth, who lay down a dynamic platform to build the song on.
The song moves at a reserved tempo, lithe, undulating — this is downright sexy. This rumba should be on the dance floor, bodies intertwined.
The syncopated chorus ups the tempo with its infectious groove. Morris often doubles melodies, and she introduces Swenson’s solo first, perfect in this setting, reminiscent of John Tropea and Santana in those deep grooves. Swenson takes the song back to the head, and Morris then leads to the gorgeous piano solo from Lewis. Finally, they return again to the main theme and take it out with one more great bouncing chorus.
This is a complete team effort; the rhythm work is equally as critical as the solos here. Frankly, we cannot wait to hear what else is in store from Acme Jazz Garage. They have certainly whetted our appetites!
And we were right!
The “Rumba Jam” (1:45) was used during the credits for the stunning video that accompanied “Rumba Misterioso,” Close and Washington up close and personal.
“Springs Piano Interlude No. 1” (2:16) is the first of three improvisations by Lewis, a true keyboard wizard. The Steinway at The Springs Theatre is magical, and after Lewis sat down during a break in the action to play, it was so impressive that they captured several others.
“Phil’s Blues” [Booth] (6:15) was already a swinging number when originally recorded, but here Booth and arranger Sam Fagaly up the ante considerably with the addition of the horn section of Belliveau, Run-on, and Mr. & Mrs. Ryan. Swenson recalls the jazz greats with his solo, and then Booth takes his double bass out for a spin. Lewis follows suit on B3, and the horns are spot on.
Lewis handled the arrangement on “When October Goes” [Barry Manilow] (4:50), such a gorgeous ballad. Reinhardt’s soft touch on brushes offers the perfect accompaniment, along with a tender Swenson solo and Booth on bass and French horn. Lewis also plays B3, and then Swenson digs into a deeply soulful groove.
“Springs Piano Interlude No. 2” (2:50) More Lewis magic
They take “Nature Boy” [Eden Ahbez] (7:41) at a great pace, with Reinhardt and Washington giving the track great life. Christian Ryan’s baritone is heard during the first stanza before a tenor solo by Jeremy Powell, who was prominent on the Tampa scene before making it in New York, where he recorded his solo remotely. Lewis again dances over the Hammond B3. Booth’s outing here is sublime before they return to the head. Reinhardt helps close the tune with a nice drum feature before a quick Powell coda.
“Springs Piano Interlude No. 3” (3:25)
“Mercy Mercy Mercy” [Joe Zawinul] (6:22) is gospel-drenched, much the way the group’s recording of “America the Beautiful” is. Lewis is responsible for the reharmonizing here, with Swenson rocking over Lewis’ B3 work. Lewis’ solo is playful, dancing around the melody.
“Sharkskin Suit (radio edit)” [Booth, Lewis, Swenson] (6:03) was offered to radio stations that might want a shorter version of the original song; it clips of the gorgeous piano at the beginning. The jazz stations in the Tampa area will always play the complete version.
Acme Jazz Garage