This is another one of those under-marketed gems that capture
the essence of quality smooth jazz better than a lot of the
high profile releases. Bassist Larry Antonino has played
with a noteworthy collection of artists including Steve Oliver,
Freddie Ravel, Richard Smith, David Pack, Jeff Beck, Al Jarreau,
David Foster, and Michael McDonald. Village Strut is
his first solo project and it’s a beauty. He has sidestepped
the traps that bass driven CDs can fall into – making
the songwriting a secondary framework for showcasing the
solos or abandoning the lows and turning the bass into a
surrogate guitar. The opening notes of the first track make
the declaration that it’s all about the bass. But he’s
gonna play it over and under some spellbinding melodies.
Village Strut reminds me of Steve
Oliver’s CDs. It doesn’t sound just like them
but it has that same buoyant spirit and the warmth and
looseness of a live performance. It’s impossible
to put this music on and not feel good! Antonino has played
on all of Oliver’s CDs and Oliver plays on three
tracks here. What they share is the use of vocalese to
convey the hum-able choruses and bridges that make these
songs “pop.” The instantly familiar melody
line in “Pamela’s Song” breaks into a
vocal chorus that is bound to get stuck in your head. Same
with the joyous “I Knew That Love Would Find Me.” The
other thing he shares with Oliver is that he has such an
impressive voice that you want him to sing more. “Love
Was Strong” is the only full vocal on Village
Strut. It sounds like those great ballads
that got airplay back when the format was called New Adult
Contemporary, somewhere between singer/songwriter pop and
contemporary jazz. There’s a lot of melody, range,
and emotion in his voice.
The great thing about releasing the CD as an indie artist
is he didn’t have to play it safe. He’s a formidable
bass player and he gets to cut loose. The title track has
both him and keyboardist Rob Mullins at the top of their
game, trading licks and launching into some definitive soloing.
Antonino delivers the kind of thumpin’ solos you usually
only hear during live performances on several songs, most
notably on “Village Strut” and the hard-hitting
deeply funky “Crusin’ in Houston.” In
the simmering “Santa Ana” he plays the melody
on the middle range and underscores it with some speaker-shakin’ lows
while Steve Oliver delivers compact fast-fingered solos.
Freddy Ravel’s solo on “Back in Your Arm’s
Again” is astonishing. “Always With You” was
co-written with guitarist Nils before he had his radio hit.
It’s rare to hear the bass played so expressively in
a ballad setting.
This one’s not going to get a lot of hype but that
doesn’t matter. It’s one of the best and most
consistent CDs released this year. It’s got all the
goods: an inventive approach to using the bass as a lead
instrument, virtuoso musicianship, stellar guest artists,
infectious songwriting and a huge dose of originality.
Village Strut is available at CDBaby.com, Barnesandnoble.com,
- Shannon West