Release Date: 2002
Record label: R Squared Records
Genre(s): Classical, Jazz
Great Start Guys, What's Next?
by: matt cibula
I'll just say at the outset that the previous rating only applies to the general public. If you're a fan of "smooth jazz" and stuff like that, then you'll love this record beyond all measure, because it takes the basic formula (easy-to-digest melodies, no weird solos, vague touches of world-beat) and messes with it by bringing in just a little tiny bit of funk. However, if you're a rocker, maaaaan, then this is not going to be your cup of bile. So leave, so I can talk to the jazzheads.
Present Tense is, at least on this record, a piano trio that alternates its piano players. So there are four members, but the core is just two guys. Richard Frank plays bass and Ronnie Kaufman plays drums (that's the R Squared of the label), and they write all the songs either together or separately. But neither of them ever carry the melody lines—that's all left up to pianists John Enrico Douglas (first five tracks) and Chad Edwards (tracks 6-12). Oh, and I hear they sometimes play with a saxophonist, but not on this record. Confused yet?
Well, let's talk about the songs themselves then. Kaufman used to be the drummer in the Gap Band, so you know he's nice like that; his work on his song "Dia del Sol" has to be heard to be believed, and he's just as comfortable on bop things like "Outhouse" as he is on fusion pieces like "Overload." And Franks, while not the showiest bassist in the world (thank god), holds it down nicely, as well as writing some beautiful songs—"Sweet and Simple" manages to be both without being boring, and "The Ride" is crying out to be sampled by Dr. Dre.
Douglas and Edwards are both really good piano players, but their styles are very similar (Edwards seems to favor synths a little more), and it's hard to know what the group gains by having these two alternate. In fact, that's my main criticism of Night Shadows: this album doesn't seem to have a sense of purpose. Frank and Kaufman are the backbone of the band, but they allow the two part-time members to dominate the proceedings. Why not some funky rhythm interaction? Why do all the songs rotate around new-agey keyboard lines? When Frank takes a solo on "Outhouse," it's actually shocking—I wish he and Kaufman had more of a sense of themselves as The Guys Who Run The Band, rather than just being a rhythm section.
But enough of that. If you like sly melodies ("Pinstripe") and cool neo-fusion jazz ("Wrath"), then Present Tense is a group to watch closely. This is a fine debut—but it will be their next record that will tell us whether or not we should continue to watch or change to another channel. 20-May-2002 9:30 PM