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Jazz - Released January 1, 2000 | Velour Records

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Topaz is a contemporary jazz tenor saxophonist who in some circles is an unknown and in others a legend. In a sense playing retro music that harks back to the late-'60s and early-'70s seminal jazz-rock fusion era, Topaz is more readily associated with the modern jam bands à la Medeski, Martin & Wood. Both aspects are prevalent in his music, played with a large ensemble fronted by a horn section and spurred on by electric keyboards and a middle core funk beat. Clearly one who has heard his share of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Hank Mobley, Topaz himself has a refined approach, not overblown or histrionics-driven, but chooses to play a role in his band that lends to the overall sound that is unified and complete in many ways. Though the signposts of the Miles Davis Bitches Brew, Mwandishi, and Jazz Crusaders bands are quite evident, Topaz is playing the music with his own overview of that bygone but still vital era. Donald Byrd's "The Emperor" kicks things off with wah-wah guitar by Tewar, a breezy horn chart, and Fender Rhodes piano courtesy of Ethan White. A "free your mind" vocal chorus informs you that "Let It Go" has roots in the funky psychedelic music of the '70s, surrounding a Brecker Brothers or Jazz Crusaders trombone-led horn chart. The long title track really shows where Topaz is coming from, with spooky organ, light funk, and developed horn lines borrowed straight from the Miles Davis classic "Shhh...Peaceful." "Peyote Eyes" is parallel to what the Cinematic Orchestra does, with soulful organ from Oliver Von Essen, a pop vocal line sung by Rozz Nash, languid refrains from strings, and a lap steel guitar. There's rock & roll meeting the sitar on "Rez," and the 12-minute "Dharma" is a terrific piece of music, with a lengthy free intro, long tones and spacy incursions, and a fast and really beautiful middle section with breakbeats. It seems Topaz has also listened to his share of Julian Priester's ECM LP Love, Love, employing trombonist Squantch (yes, that's his stage name) and trumpeter Takuya Nakamura to lead the band with him in a formidable triad full of restrained power, grace, and witty repartee. If you are not hip to Topaz, it's time to get up to speed, for this CD is a portent of great things to come as he affixes his brand of jazz to the youth-oriented marketplace. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo