Bob Arthurs explores Ukrainian musicial traditions on “Jazz It Up!”

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Bob Arthurs has a five-decade history as a musician. He plays flugelhorn and trumpet. He has teamed up with guitarist Steve LaMattina to record albums in a series called “Jazz For…” The latest of which is “Jazz For Three Dads.”

The three dads that serve as the impetus for the current release are related to the musicians’ producer, Irena Portenko. She wanted to know if the duo could put a jazz spin on traditional Ukrainian music. Portenko dedicated the music on the album to her father, her uncle, and her daughter’s dad, thus the three dads. Included in the dedications, too, is the producer’s homeland of Ukraine. The result is jazz with a touch of Eastern Europe. The songs are gentle, distinct, and well-crafted. The unexpected soundscape is created by the use of brass with the guitar. The two instrument groups are unexpected in the way they play against each other, and the result is effective, even if listeners are not familiar with Ukrainian music.

About Bob Arthurs and Steve LaMattina

Bob Arthurs’ long history as a musician has been developed by playing iconic jazz clubs in New York City and around the world. He played trumpet, functioned as a bandleader, and was a vocalist from his early years until the present. In addition to his work as a professional musician, Arthurs worked as an educator. He worked as a trumpet teacher and music educator at the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains, New York for three decades. “Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads” is his fourth album as a leader, but the first one in which he sings in Ukrainian.

Steve LaMattina studied jazz guitar with legendary guitarist Barry Galbraith. He, like Arthurs, also served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains, New York. Prior to “Jazz It Up,” LaMattina recorded “Shades of Brown,” with saxophonist Ted Brown, and bassist Dennis Irwin.

“Jazz It Up!” by Bob Arthurs and Steve LaMattina

“Blackthorn is in Blossom” by Bob Arthurs and Steve LaMattina

Despite the Ukrainian inspiration for this song, it sounds like classic New York jazz. The guitar has a pleasant, hollow sound, and plays against the horn’s triplets to create a gentle up and down feel.

Movement is inherent to the piece. That up and down feel lends itself to the way waltzing dancers might move. However, when listeners consider that the basis for the song is Ukrainian folk music, after a minute or so, the track does sound European. Audiences get the idea of how the song could have evolved into jazz. Without knowing the original, the means of seeing exactly where the two forms connect and intersect can be difficult to access. Most listeners are left with enjoying the song for what they hear when it plays. And that is quite a bit.

“Moon in the Sky” by Bob Arthurs and Steve LaMattina

Here, Arthurs sings in Ukrainian. The song, though, does sound like “Blackthorn is in Blossom.” But, it does have a guitar-only soundscape. LaMattina’s skill is evident. Sometimes, it is difficult for string players of various sort to fill up the soundscape with a single representative of an instrument group.

Arthurs’ singing sounds appropriate for the piece. Even though both this song and “Blackthorn” start out similarly, they are different, if for nothing else but the singing and ultimately the instrumentation.

“Blues for Ukraine” by Bob Arthurs and Steve LaMattina

The soundscape is bluesy, which is no easy feat for two instruments as different guitar and trumpet and a voice. Arthurs sings in English, but his pronunciation of “Ukraine” as You-Cry-EEn-ah gives the song an authentic touch.

The song functions as a lament for the way the country is treated and looked upon by others. It describes the nation’s beauty and details the narrator’s love for Ukraine.

The lyrics kind of bookend the song, so most of the track is an instrumental. That the blues feel actually comes through in the song is an accomplishment, because just reading the title, it is almost impossible to predict how successfully how a song will go.

Arthurs and LaMattina pull off mixing jazz and Ukrainian traditional songs. The unconventional approach yields a soundscape marked by gently rollicking instrumentation.

“Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads” will be available May 4, 2018.

 

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