Searching Souls
Nine Winds NWCD 0233

Chalk up another accomplishment for Maynard G. Krebs. Yup, TV's first prime-time beatnik who appeared from 1959 to 1963 on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, portrayed by a pre-Gilligan Bob Denver, was responsible for luring a teenaged Johnnie Valentino to jazz, and by a circuitous route, to the creation of this fine, theatrical album.

It seems that on one episode the goateed, sweatshirt-wearing Maynard told Dobie that he was off to see Thelonious Monk in concert, and intrigued by the name, Valentino, then a native of South Philadelphia, went out and bought a Monk LP. From then on his interest in jazz grew. Living close by was legendary soul-jazz guitarist Pat Martino, who gave young Valentino a few lessons.

Today the-now Los Angeles-based Valentino, who toils as a music producer for TV movies, also leads Goin' Public, described as a contemporary jazz band which introduces funks and grooves over hip-hop beats. Hornman Rick Rossi who plays on a couple of tunes here is in the combo as well. From that description, though, it sound as if SEARCHING SOULS is a better bet for jazzers, since its straightahead modern improv, unconcerned with "funks, grooves and hip-hop".

Recalling Valentino's past, it's no surprise that Monk's "Ugly Beauty" makes an appearance here, but what about "My Old Kentucky Home"? Actually the later gets more of a POMO treatment than the Monk classic. The former with its airy voicings of Billy Drewes' clarinet, Valentino's guitar plus backing from unobtrusive bassist Trevor Watt and drummer Mick Rossi, comes across pretty much the way most West Coasters from the 1950s on have treated Monk: a little too lighthearted to pick up his intrinsic fortitude.

"Home" on the other hand, with Valentino and Rossi joined by clarinetist Andy Laster and former Bill Frisell sidekick Kermit Driscoll on bass, is simultaneously mocked and manipulated. A straight clarinet-led reading of the melody soon dissolves into percussive variations on the theme. At a little more than two minutes, though, it's over almost before things get started.

Much more satisfying is "Vapor Burn", featuring Rick Rossi on bass clarinet, Mick Ross on (overdubbed?) piano and drums, Ware and Valentino. A maelstrom of ebony reed tones, nervous drum beats and busy chording from strings and keys, it's churned out at a languorous pace, but without ever losing momentum.

Most gratifying are the compositions which showcase trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. On "This or That" for example, the brassman lets loose with some runs that manage to be gritty and stratospheric at the same time, frequently working in unison with the guitarist to advance the frisky melody. Two and one quarter minutes scarcely seems enough for the number though. Then there's "The Harvest" with the trumpeter's extended octaves contrast with Valentino's bluegrass-style mandolin. Had Woody Shaw sat in with The New Lost City Ramblers the exhilarating result could have been similar to what happens here.

Even better is the title tune with its all-star line-up of Smith, Golia (on bass clarinet), Driscoll, Rossi (M.) and Valentino. Given feature length time to grow unlike the TV commercial limit of some other tunes, it suggests intelligent late-1960s fusion. With the bass clarinet undertow pulling one way, valve tones simultaneously negotiating hills and valleys, occasional right hand piano trills and repeated, reverberating guitar lines it's more about the journey than the destination.

Because of this outstanding session, Valentino's name may be one to look for next time the credits unroll on your TV screen. Considering his location though, we can only hope that mammon doesn't replace Monk as his hero in the future.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1.Up and Down%@ 2. Searching Souls*%#= 3. Black Cat 4. Vapor Burn@= 5. This or That*+ 6. Dark Matter^= 7. Ugly Beauty 8. The Harvest*$ 9. Nono^ 10. Littleton*% 11. My Old Kentucky Home^# 12. Spiritual Blessing&

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith* (trumpet); Vinny Golia% (clarinet, bass clarinet); Andy Laster^ (clarinet); Billy Drewes& (clarinet); Rick Rossi@ (bass clarinet); Johnnie Valentino (guitar, mandolin$); Trevor Ware or Kermit Driscoll# (bass); Mick Rossi (piano=, drums); Jimmy DiJulio+ (drums)