Review by Brad Walseth
There is something really wonderful about this 2006 recording. Or, should I say "some (several) THINGS." The core band, featuring graceful pianist Jim Ryan, along with expressive drummer Jeff Stitely and active bassist Rob Amster is in top form. Saxophonist extraordinaire, Pat Mallinger is his usual stellar self. Top-flight percussionist Alejo Poveda puts in a welcome appearance on three songs, while Curtis Robinson livens things up with his spicy guitar work. Guests include Chicago Symphony members Burl Lane and Rob Kassinger, as well as tuba master Dan Perantoni, who all bring variation to the overall presentation, and even the late Thomas Kini, Bobby's long-time bassist, makes an appearance on two cuts.
Aside from the personnel, the song choices are outstanding. Gerry Mulligan’s "Line for Lyons," Walter Booker’s "Saudade" Claire Fischer’s "Morning," and Wayne Shorter's “Edda” are matched with Johnny Mandel’s "The Shining Sea," and two Henry Mancini tunes ("Dreamsville," "Two for the Road"). These tracks are joined by two originals by Lewis ("The New Delhi Deli," "Together We’ll Stay"), a Mallinger contribution ("Sauce Melba"), and Rob Amster’s "The Evening Star." Perhaps the most unusual cut is a version of Jelly Roll Morton’s "Grandpa's Spells" where Lewis plays an alto trumpet in counterpoint to Perantoni's tuba. This is mainstream jazz, but with a wide range of styles – all enjoyable.
This recording is consistently good from start to finish. Some highlights include the band percolating on the opening "The New Dehli Deli," inspired by Lewis' travels in India, and featuring nice solos by Lewis, Mallinger and Amster; the Latin-groove of "Morning" and “Saudade,” the strong, hard-swinging closer "The Evening Star," and the wonderful version of “"dda," that should simply be required listening for all jazz musicians seeking instruction on how to cover a tune well. The band plays together joyfully, with a muscular rhythm section and Ryan and Mallinger playing the perfect complements to their veteran bandleader. Mallinger in particular is one of the best young saxophonists in Chicago, and his playing here is as always exciting, but also respectful of the music itself.
Throughout it all, however, Lewis is the centerpiece that holds it all together. With a tone that somewhat shows a Chet Baker soft-melodic influence, his confident trumpet and flugelhorn playing is so seemingly effortless that the listener may not initially realize the command the veteran player has over his horns. The ability to play rapid-fire melodic lines accurately and smoothly is one of Lewis' trademarks, but it is his sensitive work on the ballads that is his money sound. "The Shining Sea" features Lewis' dreamy flugelhorn atop Ryan’s synthesizer wash, “Sauce Melba” is so very sweet, Lewis trades lines with Rob Kassinger's bowed bass on "Two for the Road," while "Dreamsville" showcases 4 flugelhorns and trumpet with Harmon mute by Lewis with Burl Lane providing 4 bassoons and tenor sax, creating a full horn section that lives up to its name.
"Instant Groove" is another worthy recording by the master trumpeter Bobby Lewis, and one that should be a part of any mainstream jazz fans collection. If you are a lover of straight ahead (but never boring) jazz classics featuring strong melodies, exceptional playing and interplay between the musicians, you will want to add this great Southport Records album to your wish list.