REVIEWS: Hubbub

“Hubbub” Gabwalk Records 0401

Minneapolis-based composer, guitarist and educator Paul Renz flexes impressive compositional and instrumental chops with his new CD, the self-produced Hubbub. Renz wrote five of the seven tunes, showing a refreshing penchant for offbeat melodic and rhythmic twists and turns. Renz honors a kindred spirit with “Well You Couldn’t”— a tune based on the changes of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” combined with a bit of New Orleans second line rhythm supplied by drummer Greg Schutte. Trading licks with Renz are harmonicat Clint Hoover, young tenor saxophonist Chris Thomson, electric bassist Eric Graham and drummer Greg Schutte. A special guest of sorts is percussion wizard Ernesto Laboy, who’s based in Renz’ former home of Virginia. Once again, the imaginative Hoover validates his place as a world-class player on the challenging chromatic harp.

-Dan Emerson
The Chord

Hubbub

From the trenches of academia, guitarist Paul Renz emerges with his magnum swingin’ opus, a calling card that should open the door of any jazz club where the booker has ears. Hubbub is a box of musical truffles that won’t make you fat. Everything sweet (and salty) about modern mainstream jazz is in there. The invention, the drive, hot solos aplenty, nods to past masters (Yo Miles! Yo Monk!), the “Latin tinge” courtesy of percussion all-pro Ernesto Laboy, plus a shot or two of rock energy and electricity.

Renz’s talent for writing hip, complex, yet hummable themes is uncanny. “Hubbub,” is Exhibit A. Right from the first bluesy, bent-string guitar notes, the listener is sucked in, led astray, caught between bop and a rock place, buoyed by the groove, lost between blues and bliss. OK, that’s a bit florid, I’ll admit. But this CD oughta come with a yellow-and-black sticker reading: “Caution, Composer At Work.”

Duke Pearson’s most famous tune, “Jeannine,” is Exhibit B of Renz’s compositional prowess. Yeah, it’s a bar standard, done very often and very well—by everybody from Cannonball Adderly, Gene Ammons and Teddy Edwards, to singers Eddie Jefferson and Georgie Fame. But dig Renz’s long, insistent, mysterious intro. It had me reaching for old Gabor Szabo LPs. While Renz is proving himself to be a fluid, potent soloist, the hip intro could easily stand alone as its own groove tune. Some samplin’ trip-hop kids might really have fun with the driving bass line. And “Jeannine” has another surprise before her track ends, a Latin sibling we’ll call Juanita, who makes an appearance about eight-and-a-half minutes into the track, trailing along a salsa band. Timbales, anyone? Maybe Renz should have retitled this, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Jeannine.”

Hubbub is chock full of such hip twists and turns. The beat shouts New Orleans, yet the model is obviously Monk, on “Well You Couldn’t,” another catchy bullseye. Midwest young lion Chris Thomson gets to swagger a bit here on tenor sax, then erupt briefly on “A Fit of Fifths”—remember the name, he’s a comer! Thelonious is lurking in the shadows again on “Blues In the Open.” And it’s a shame Bill Evans isn’t around to hear the beautiful ballad gem, “Everlasting.” He’d want to round up Toots Thielemans and cut his own version, I’d bet.

Speaking of Mr. Thielemans…To the short list of great jazz harmonica players—Toots, Hendrik Meurkens, Howard Levy, Gregoire Maret—you can now add the name Clint Hoover. Mild-mannered off the bandstand, he’s a monster onstage or in the studio, a smokin’ and soulful soloist who will huff and puff and cajole your house down. Just listen, the evidence is everywhere on Hubbub.

Now do you think “All Blues” has been done to perfection, and to death? So did I, before hearing Renz’s kitchen sink, tour-de-force, positively giddy update! ‘Tis a gift to be simple? Maybe. But ya gotta be gifted to construct a crazy quilt musical collage this colorful, too. By the time we get to the fiery fusion finale, it’s easy to see even old hardass Miles up in heaven with a broad grin. Or, maybe down in the other place—he was the “prince of darkness,” after all.

No jazz album this satisfying would be possible without a first-class rhythm section, as Renz well knows. In his parallel career as a music school prof, the guitarist/composer gets to spot and nurture new talent. And he’s certainly found a couple of keepers in bassist Eric Graham, whose electric solo bounces along very electrically indeed on “All Blues” and able drummer Greg Schutte, an ally for several years now, both in studio and on occasional cross-country road trips.

On one of those hit-the-highways jaunts out of Minneapolis, through Chicago and the rest of the Midwest, back to his old Virginia stomping grounds, Renz re-connected with congas wizard and dear pal, Ernesto Laboy, the truly “special” guest who puts Hubbub over the top. New York City-born and Virginia-based, Laboy has been a Latin music deejay, a Bruce Hornsby sideman (on the jazzy double-album Spirit Trail) and a mainstay of the East Coast bands, Hot Sun Trio and Classe Aparte. In the middle of a Minnesota winter, Laboy brought his ritmo caliente to town, and the musical picture was complete.

The word hubbub can be traced back over four centuries, to the early Celtic inhabitants of Britain and has generally always carried pejorative connotations. Even today, Webster’s dictionary defines hubbub as: “a noisy confusion of sound; an uproar, a tumult.” With his latest and finest recording, Paul Renz has at last given Hubbub a good reputation, a positive spin, a ***** rating.

-Tom Surowicz
Tom Surowicz contributes regularly to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and is the host of “Monday Evening Jazz” on KBEM-FM radio.

REVIEWS  |  RESUME  |  MACPHAIL CENTER FOR MUSIC  |  BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC  |  NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY