Review: North America Jazz Alliance’s ‘The Montreal Sessions’

March 30, 2013 

"The Montreal Sessions" by North America Jazz Alliance.

  • Jazz North America Jazz Alliance The Montreal Sessions

Return to lounge jazz

“The Montreal Sessions” may be the best album Raleigh vibraphone player Steve Hobbs has ever recorded. As part of the North America Jazz Alliance, an ad hoc group assembled by Canadian record producer Peter Maxymych in memory of the Art Van Damme Quintet, Hobbs has cooled his sometimes frantic impulses of the past and turned into a model of musical decorum and stylish swing.

As musical arranger for the session, Hobbs reaches back to the era of what might be termed lounge jazz, or sophisticated easy-listening jazz. With the late accordionist Van Damme’s group as its model, there are the blended harmonic colors of Kenny Kotwitz’s accordion, Greg Clayton’s guitar and Hobbs’ vibes, supported by bassist Alec Walkington and drummer Dave Laing. Sinatra-styled vocalist John Labelle adds extra class to the proceedings on several performances. You’ll forget all the old jokes about the accordion – everybody’s favorite instrument to malign – when listening to this group.

The tunes are mostly familiar: “Just One of Those Things,” “Close Your Eyes,” Angel Eyes,” “Charade,” “Dancing in the Dark, “Only Trust Your Heart,” et. al. When Kotwitz takes off on a rippling single-line solo on “Just of Those Things” it’s as if the Old World of Italy and Eastern Europe is meeting jazz on very compatible sonic and melodic terms. Likewise on the atmospheric “Charade.” Hobbs, in addition to his ensemble role of, among other things, providing aural glitter above the accordion and guitar, develops his solos in various thoughtful and satisfying ways: riffing on catchy rhythms, constructing and deconstructing various melodic fragments, pausing to let a final cadence shimmer with vibrato.

In addition to Hobbs, there’s another Raleigh connection with this album: Bob Rogers of Tain Radio provided the vibist with previous recordings of the 12 tunes on the album to assist him with the arrangements.

Correspondent Owen Cordle

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