True, we live in a digital music era where album art is often an afterthought – and that’s a pity because veteran bassist Fred Randolph’s decision to have visual artist Julie Ann Accornero create the cover art to his stylistically eclectic, supremely grooving new album Mood Walk tells us everything we need to know about his musical and spiritual intentions in creating this endlessly fascinating masterwork.
The gorgeous jaguar prowling down an impressionistic path full of upright basses reflects Randolph’s appreciation of the power, valor, energy and confidence of the wild cats. With his bass providing the alternately sensitive and intensely funky rhythms, he and his tight, freewheeling ensemble of storied Northern California musicians perfectly embody the spirit and energy of those literal “cats.” Considering also the cool reality that jaguars had spiritual significance in Pre-Columbian, Meso-American cultures, the symbolism is beyond stunning – and quite thought, and yes, multi-mood provoking.
The images should stay in your mind throughout the rambunctious, twist, turn and improvisation-filled set, helping the listener connect to Randolph’s mindset as he pays inspirational homage to everyone from Clifford Brown - the hard swinging opener “On the Upside,” featuring bold and brash trumpet and sax solos by Erik Jacobson and Sheldon Brown, respectively - to Todd Rundgren (the expansive floating soul ambience filled “Todd’s Idea”).
The ensemble explores the gentler, peace through strength side of felinity via tunes like the meditational “Strange Game” (which showcases Brown’s lovely melodic flute) and the coolly strutting “Unaware,” then taps into the frenzied ferocity on jams like the bluesy, hard-shuffling “T-Bone Slide,” the Latin-flavored “Mr. Now” and hard-stomping, Mardi Gras styled romp “Funky N.O. Thing.”