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Token Tales

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Album Review

Mark Rapp sounds very much like the fledgling young contemporary jazz trumpeter he is, a basic player relying on thin melodic constructs and funky rhythms to play tunes that are quite danceable and light on thematic substance. But that is only part of what this debut album represents, because as you continue to listen to his tunes, his more artistic and jazz oriented side comes through. For performers playing both ends to somehow wind up in the middle is a dangerous game, waffling on true intent and trying to please each faction only to lose both in confusion and boredom. Where Rapp eventually winds up is anyone's guess, but on this recording there are some high and low points in both areas that can only be judged by his imminent audience. He thanks heavyweights from New Orleans, further proof that Rapp straddles the line stylistically between mainstream jazzers like the Marsalis family and contemporary peer funk purveyors Galactic. What his music truly represents is a project akin to 1970s Freddie Hubbard sans braggadocio, which was not Hubbard's strongest suit save "Red Clay." Certainly a version of the classic R&B hit by the Meters, "Cissy Strut" indicates this is where Rapp's spirit grew up around, and he adapts it well with double trap sticks rhythms and an interesting re-arrangement. The surprising cover of the Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense & Peppermints" is a diffuse reading of the old psychedelic pop hit — not bad. The simplistic funk of "Who's the Man?" is based on a slower version of "'Trane's Blues" with wah-wah trumpet and effects, "'Nuff Time" plods in a road song's pace, and the acoustic soul ballad "Token Tales" works within a very controlled range. The best material comes at the end of the disc, where "My Place" has Rapp's muted and open horn that, when toned down, is actually sweet. "It Should Be" is the legit concessionary jazz tune on the date that swings along, "What Was" is a better, more patient funk in the current, not trendy sense, and the finale "Sweet Serene" finally cuts loose on a 6/8 based mixed meter mode as it goes along, much more interesting and inventive than all of the other tracks. Rapp is clearly pop oriented and mindful of not sounding like a stoic mainstream jazz musician. Whether he actually possesses the chops to step up his game, or is stuck in a rut, will be answered on forthcoming releases. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Token Tales, Mark Rapp
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