Bob Arthurs is a jazz trumpet player, vocalist, and recording artist who has been appearing in clubs and at festivals in the New York area and abroad for almost five decades. In 2013 he released ‘Jazz For Svetlana’ with guitarist Steve Lammattina, following it up in 2017 with ‘Jazz For Molly’. Their producer, Irena Portenko (who is herself Ukrainian) asked if they would consider recording an album of popular Ukrainian folk songs, and once they had agreed she provided them with a list to choose from. Although the songs were unfamiliar to both Bob and Steve they found that as they worked through them to see how they could transform them into jazz numbers they became incredibly invested. The album is subtitled ‘Ukrainian Songs For Three Dad’s, Irena’s father, her uncle, and her daughter Anastasia’s dad, and her homeland.
I must confess that most of the folk I have heard is Western, so don’t actually recognize any of the songs being played, but what I found interesting is how this album sounds with no percussion or bottom end. Steve provides guitar, Bob provides trumpet and flugelhorn (along with some vocals), and it almost feels as if we have been allowed to sit in a studio while the guys play, as opposed to playing a CD. This doesn’t have the vitality and risk that I normally associate with jazz, but rather is far more considered in its approach. It certainly feels like they are reading scores, which they probably are in fairness, as opposed to going where the music takes them. This is due to them wanting to be true to the originals, and it certainly imbibes the music with a far different feeling from normal. I found myself enjoying the album more from an intellectual standpoint than an emotional one, but it is interesting all the same. I do wonder what this might have sounded like if the guys had brought in some other musicians and loosened up somewhat, but it definitely drags you in.
by Kev Rowland