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The Playmaker

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Album Review

You've got to give Mads Tolling full marks for his willingness to take risks, as a composer and violinist and as a bandleader. Opening and closing his second solo album with adaptations of rock songs — one a recent alternative hit, the other a classic — and using the inside tracks to pay tribute to musicians and athletes he admires, Tolling is certainly demonstrating confidence in his personal vision of modern jazz. If the results are hit and miss, well, that's probably just as it should be. In fact, the Radiohead cover that opens the album is a bit more of a miss, while the version of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" closes the program much more convincingly. His original tributes to star athletes take the form of a three-part medley dedicated to Tom Brady ("The Playmaker"), Zinedine Zidane ( "The Contemplator"), and LeBron James ("The Risktaker"), while he also pays musical homage to guitarist John McLaughlin with a rock/bebop hybrid piece called "Star-maker Machinery" that sounds like something Jean-Luc Ponty might play if he were on speed, and to Jaco Pastorius with a sweetly funky arrangement of Pee Wee Ellis' "The Chicken" (which features a suitably Jaco-esque bass solo by George Ban-Weiss). Tolling's "Loki in the Pokey" sounds like a Brazilian fugue, and features another brilliant bass solo (and ask yourself how frequently you encounter the phrase "brilliant bass solo"), and his arrangement of the Thelonious Monk standard "Blue Monk" is perhaps the album's finest moment — a sturdy yet tender rendition of one of Monk's most unassumingly lovely compositions. There are moments on this record where the typical listener may well question some of Tolling's choices, but never will you question his motivations, his musicality, or his seemingly effortless technical command.

The Playmaker, Mads Tolling
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