Theo Czuk - The Black Bottom
Theo Czuk writes about the challenges posed by writing substantive lyrics for many styles of jazz music, particularly when considering the genre’s often challenging time signatures, and the assertion has considerable merit. It’s all the more impressive then to hear how well he tackles this challenge with eleven original lyrics married to a variety of jazz styles without any apparent discomfort or dissonance. His latest full length album The Black Bottom is dubbed and being promoted as a full on exploration of this distinctly American art form imported globally and it more than lives up to its hype – Czuk and his musical partners take on a number of popular styles within the genre with immense fluency and confidence that never strikes a false note. The songs are also flesh and blood creations teeming with an authentic artistic voice that never cheats the listeners and describes human emotions and experiences with unflinching, often humorous, credibility.
There are a handful of instrumentals on the album and the title song ranks as one of its best. “The Black Bottom”, naturally, favors the rhythm section over other instruments initially, but there’s some quality keyboard work that soon comes in and helps define the song. The bass line, however, is very memorable and provides the song with a signature moment audiences will recall long after it ends. “Cold Corridors” is an artfully turned lyric with a cinematic styled musical arrangement, but Czuk’s vocal is engaged and makes everything mean even more. The rich backing gives Czuk a great musical backdrop for his lyrics and vocals. Another of the fine instrumentals on The Black Bottom comes with the track “Mi Casa Bossa” and do an outstandingly credible job of showing their stylistic flexibility while still providing listeners with a structured, clearly focused tune. The chemistry between the musicians on this track is especially inspired. “Lunch Wagon on Highway 57” scores big despite featuring a text adapted to song from a Kenneth Patchen poem and Czuk’s vocal definitely owns it in such a way that it never seems like something staid committed to page shoehorned into a musical structure it doesn’t fit. The adaptation comes across as quite natural.
“Wooden Nickels” is wicked fun and definitely another track showcasing the band’s chops without ever seeming like showing off. Czuk, as a writer, does a consistently outstanding job of bringing together a conversational style of writing with under the radar substance that makes an impact on attentive listeners. “Midnight ‘Round” is another great instrumental with a markedly different, introspective mood fueling the music and “Pi to the ‘Nth Degree” falls in the same category while packing more musical forcefulness. His daring even extends to seeming trifles like “Catalina Eddy”; you have to possess supreme confidence to indulge in loose, entertaining fare like this, even going so far as quoting “Smoke on the Water” during an instrumental break, on the same album as Czuk’s other much more “serious” compositions. It’s just a glaring final example of the impressive creativity that he’s poured into this release and it’s sure to pay off handsomely for longtime jazz fans and newcomers alike.