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Barry Romberg's Random Access - Crab People [Rom Hog Records 123 - 2014]

Jazz drummer, composer and bandleader Barry Romberg and his ensemble Random Access have an extensive history / discography sadly not often heard, and unlisted on such places as discogs. com.  They play a smoky, relaxed and open ended flavor of largely improvised electric jazz fusion, generously layered with fluid, ethereal guitar work and extended saxophone rants. Their music is instantly listenable and likeable for extended relaxation and flights of the mind.

Most songs are slow burning 6-10 minute excursions that travel wherever their momentum takes them.  Though Barry's band is never in a hurry to get anywhere in particular, groove is a central element.  Generally they inhabit a hazy, dubbed out, partly conscious headspace in which breathing room is abundant and one is free to ruminate on the luminescent subtleties of the tones.  Barry prefers a midpaced stoner rock beat, around which the rest of the band spirals and comments with surprising melodic coherency.

At times the music is closer to psychedelic jam rock jam than jazz, and indeed, it is hedonistic in the sense the sounds are clearly played for the musician's pleasure, to create that perfect chilled atmosphere, in an escapist way, rather than to challenge or create tension, as in less 'friendly' improvised jazz.  This music is certainly 'free' in the sense that the band is following no strict chord progression, but the band has a way of intentionally sketching and dancing around recognizably soulful rock and blues scales, often by way of Rich Brown's meandering and tastefully percussive electric bass parts, which didn't catch my attention at first, but are actually amazingly intricate, filled with clever pockets of ghost notes, and likely the most technical playing on the album.  Generally, there is nothing close to 'show-off' to be found on this album.

Geoff Young's guitar playing has a bluesy, wah-filled shred in tracks like "Nineteen Sixty Seven (Part 2)", and elsewhere takes a molten smoother tone which is classic fusion, recalling Allan Holdsworth, or Bill Frisell's rare sentimental moments.  There is an ambiguous existential melancholy to the continuous solos, abstractly asking "why must it be?" and "what if we could?".

The album is 2 disks and very long, but length hardly hurts with music of this kind.  Listening to this band jam is a pleasure; listening to them jam for another 2 hours would be just as much a pleasure as the first 2 have been.  I could hardly say any track were better or worse than the others.  The momentum ebbs and flows, but there is an inherent beauty and listenability to all of it.  Light up a joint and play the entire thing.  This is easily my favorite jazz album in recent memory, if not the most ambitious.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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