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J.Q. Whitcomb & Five Below Explore Progressive Sounds On New Release

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In half a dozen words, Tales of Enchantment is six tracks of brain salad revelry. To say “go figure” is tempting, but to further describe this album is more enticing and more respectable.

The genre jazz itself is a broad spectrum of music styles, and J.Q. Whitcomb & Five Below’s sonic paintings epitomize this very well. The artists behind this group have obviously dipped their respective brushes in a colorful palette of progressive rock, blues, New Wave, and classic jazz to be able to produce fresh yet familiar strokes of sounds. Progressive-rock enthusiasts will surely fancy the seemingly subtle melodic allusion of tracks one and two (“Carl’s Meadows” and “Arda Chan”) to “Karn Evil 9,” a classic ’70s progressive-rock masterpiece by the English band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The rhythm and groove of the bass lines, in particular, does the trick; but the main horn riffs are what give the first two tracks of Tales of Enchantment their own character. Furthermore, “Carl’s Meadows” almost wanted me to believe that it was actually a tip of the hat to ELP’s very own drummer and percussionist, Carl Palmer, if not for the liner notes in which Whitcomb explains that it was an ode to his departed friend named Carl Kithil. But who knows, these two quaint juxtapositional details might after all be interconnected in his musical subconscious.

J.Q. Whitcomb & Five Below is J.Q. Whitcomb on trumpet, Andy Hunter on trombone, Dan Loomis on bass, Greg Ruggiero on guitar, and Donald Edwards on drums. Bandleader Whitcomb’s love for ’80s New Wave and synth-pop is undeniable. After all, he acknowledges this in the album’s liner notes: “I am a child of the ’80s.” He further galvanizes this proclamation by including in the album a cover track, a naturally and literally jazzed-up instrumental version of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”

“Always a Reason” is a nice interplay of trumpet, trombone, and guitar melodies that fuse also funk and R&B rhythms. It has also certain familiar parts that can make the listener feel nostalgic. “Synapse” is where the musical mood becomes nocturnal. Its nightclubby feel can make any jazz aficionado easily imagine himself dressed in a tuxedo, relaxing at a dimly-lit 1930s-themed jazz bar. Finally, “And the Rains Came” is an apt album closer. Its changing tempos, odd time signatures, and typical syncopation evoke a feeling of looseness and casualness that is very characteristic of jazz music.

Compared with the piano-and-Hammond-organ-flavored jazz-fusion début album, Airports (2011), Whitcomb’s second features a more progressive, raw, and tubular sound. And to generously sum it up this time in a dozen words, Tales of Enchantment is indeed an album of enchanting sonic tales expressed in progressive jazz terms.

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