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El Yabah

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Album Review

If a city has any type of jazz scene, it no doubt has some musicians who are well known locally but not nationally or internationally. The city could be Seattle, Boston, or Atlanta — for that matter, it could be Oslo, Madrid, Rome, or Prague. In Nat Yarbrough's case, the city is Denver, CO. While Yarbrough isn't nationally famous, he has kept busy in the Denver area. The veteran drummer has been around the Denver jazz scene since the '60s, but it wasn't until he recorded El Yabah in 1999 that he finally provided his first album as a leader. A generally decent, if derivative, hard bop/post-bop effort, El Yabah finds Yarbrough leading an acoustic sextet that includes trumpeter Greg Gisbert, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, alto saxophonist Brad Leali, pianist Eric Gunnison, and bassist Dan Minor. Most of the material recalls the Blue Note sessions of the late '50s and early '60s, and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers are a definite influence on hard-swinging instrumentals like Gunnison's "Echoes," Minor's "Afro-Tex," and Yarbrough's Latin-flavored "El Yabah." Meanwhile, Leali's "Grease It Up" is an enjoyably funky boogaloo-type number along the lines of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." All of those tracks are respectable; the CD's only embarrassing moments come when Yarbrough attempts to sing Horace Silver's "Peace," which is part of a medley that also includes Blue Mitchell's "Blue Silver." The "Blue Silver" part is decent because it is instrumental; "Peace," however, is butchered — quite honestly, Yarbrough can't sing. Although he is a talented drummer, Yarbrough would do well to leave the singing to the singers. It isn't as though Denver doesn't have some deserving jazz vocalists that he could have featured. But except for that ill-advised vocal, El Yabah is a noteworthy debut.

El Yabah, Nat Yarbrough
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