Sunday, November 2, 2014

CD Review: Marbin, The Third Set

The Third Set
MoonJune Records, MJR065 (2014)

The Third Set is the fourth recording from this Chicago-based band founded by two extraordinary Israeli musicians. It is their first live album and because their talents and energy are best realized in live performance, this might be the one to get if you have yet to experience the musical dynamo that Marbin is.

Founded by Dani Rabin (guitar) and Danny Markovitch (saxophone), Marbin was formed in 2007; they released their first, eponymously titled album as a duet in 2009. By the time of their second album, 2011’s Breaking the Cycle, their first for Leonardo Pavkovic’s MoonJune label, they had expanded to a quartet, with the album featuring the all-star rhythm section of Paul Wertico on drums and Steve Rodby on bass, both on loan from the Pat Metheny Group. For the touring group and subsequent recordings, Dani and Danny have been ably supported by drummer Justyn Lawrence and bassist Jae Gentile, making for a uniquely configured black-Jewish foursome.

MoonJune is a label specializing in prog and jazz fusion with ethnic influences and left-of-center musical tendencies. Marbin fits perfectly in its roster and all of the band’s diverse styles and sounds are in full display on The Third Set, recorded in America’s breadbasket in early spring 2013. For example, the opener, “Special Olympics,” is a prog-metal burner, with Rabin playing the role of Captain Speedfingers. That’s followed by a funk tune, “The Depot,” in which Markovitch takes the lead. After that is the bluesy “Crystal Bells” and the jazzy “Redline.” And yet all of it makes sense together, as the musicians bring not only great chops but also empathy and sensitivity to group dynamics. Though tempos are generally fast, except on the ballad “Northern Odyssey,” there are often dramatic and sudden shifts in tempo, dynamics, and rhythm. Like a race car with great brakes, they can surprise you with their ability to rev up, then stop on a dime and change direction.

Gentile is strong and steady throughout, and Lawrence gets a chance to strut his stuff in a call and response with Markovitch at the end of “Rabak.” On both the opener and the closer, “Volta,” Rabin and Markovitch play in unison at breakneck tempo, with the blended timbres of their instruments resembling an electric violin. There are comparisons that could be made to Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report, or even bands such as Brand X, but Marbin is truly an entity unto itself. While the previous two studio albums featured additional guest musicians and vocalists, The Third Set shows that Mssrs. Rabin, Markovitch, Lawrence, and Gentile are more than sufficient to make Marbin a supremely powerful and highly satisfying musical experience.

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