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ROB SUSMAN, Top Secret Lab

Having taught at NYU for 30 years and ensembled with countless pop, jazz and Latin bands – including the Steely Dan revue King of the World, Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Legacy – trombone ace Rob Susman has certainly known his share of serious-minded gigs.

But from the crafty robot centered cover art and food related song titles (“Tastes Like Chicken,” “Burrito Malo”) to the spaced-out way he plays Theramin at the outset of “Out There,” he’s clearly bringing a healthy side of lighthearted humor to accompany the monster playing by his new nonet on Top Secret Lab, his first recording as a leader in over 20 years. Setting the tone with three swirling horn riffs a few seconds apart, “Tastes Like Chicken” is pure funky, often honking fun featuring wild sax solos and train whistle-styled interaction between the ‘bone and other horns.

That’s the other cool conceit, stylistic diversions and offbeat twists and turns throughout. Just as they’re soulfully swinging through “East Side Infirmary,” Jan Getter blazes in with a hard rock electric guitar solo. Introduced by whimsical brass percussion, the oddly titled “Erghen Diado” gives way to an otherworldly solos by soprano saxophonist Chris Hemingway and an initial quick blast of Getter, punctuated by alarm like horn textures.

The most serious (i.e. conventionally jazzy and beautiful) moments come on the set’s two ballads, the brooding, meditative Susman original “This Time” (which features one of his most emotional horn solos) and the ever-likeable “When A Man Loves a Woman,” which begins with heavy horn textures before sliding into an easy grooving soul zone, led by Susman’s charming melody underscored by Dan Asher’s bubbly bass and Getter’s rhythmic guitar.

At the song’s crescendo, a multitude of horns take off, then give way to Getter’s wildest electric solo of the set. There are so many joyful, inventive and smile-inducing elements being cooked up in the Top Secret Lab, listeners will hope that Susman’s nonet is more than just a one off project.


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