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Robert Jospe, Just Lookin'
Sylvannia Garutch |  The Jazz Word  |   July 20, 2019

Robert Jospé is a veteran drummer and percussionist who currently resides in the state of Virginia.  He has seven CDs in his discography and is the leader of the Robert Jospé Trio, Express and the Inner Rhythm band.  Jospé has played and recorded with a cornucopia of bands and artist that range in styles from rock to jazz to folk, including collaborations with Tim Reynolds and TR3, John D’earth Quartet, pianists Hod O’Brien and Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Stanley Jordan, vocalist Bobby McFerrin and John McCutcheon.  In 2012, he was awarded artist/educator of the year by the Charlottesville Jazz Society. His latest recording Just Lookin’ with the Robert Jospe Express features, Butch Taylor: keys on all tracks; Dane Alderson: bass on all tracks; John D’Earth: trumpet on the title track “Just Lookin’” and “Round Seven”and Brian Mesko: guitars on “Snowed In.”

“Just Lookin’” sets the tone from the first notes that this is a serious jazz project with heavy weight players. Jospé sets the tune up with his drum set. His pulse is crisp, and his swing is deep. The head harkens back to the Jazz Messangers days with D’Earth’s trumpet delivering the melody with Taylor playing a Rhodes sound that fills the space. The band hits are precise and drive the energy. D’Earth’s solo is powerful with Jospé and Alderson putting a swinging undercurrent down that feels great. D’Earth’s chorus takes the energy even higher. The interaction between Jospé and D’Earth is truly the epitome of how jazz musicians communicate in the moment to build a musical statement that is distinct.

“Snowed In” is an original Jospé composition with a funk-jazz feel. Guitarist Brian Mesko joins the trio for this one. The pocket is big, and the groove is deep. The call and response between Taylor and Mesko are interactive and brings in the element of the blues. The harmony is based in a vamp setting, but the players enrich the sounds with their juxtaposition of various progressions and harmonic colors over the simple yet meaningful progression. Mesko’s funky rhythm part supports Taylor’s solo. Mesko brings in the elements of blues and fusion with his distorted guitar tone and emotional bends. This band has deep pockets and an exuberance of grooving freely.

It’s been since 2014, that Jospé has released a new album, his last, a double CD Classics/ Doin‘ It Up was met with a welcomed response.  Just Lookin’ is equally crisp and dynamic.  Filled with top-shelf performances and well-penned compositions Jospé proves he still has it.  His prowess is still equally primed and as muscular as it was on his first release Inner Rhythm released in 1990. At 69 years young, Jospé is showing no signs of slowing down.

If you’re into the jazz, blues and rock scenes in Roanoke, you’ve probably come across Brian Mesko by now. Mesko, who teaches at the Music Lab at Jefferson Center, plays for the Rootdowns, The Nicholson Brothers, Melissa & the Growlers (featuring his wife, singer Melissa Mesko) and his own Brian Mesko Trio and/or Quartet.

 

The quartet played some killer sets at Henry’s Public House on Friday night, and I shot some video that I will post later this week. One of the songs, a Mesko original called “Dank Funk,” was on the set list, and with sax man Willis Greenstreet and bassist Dane Alderson turning in some hot solos, Mesko showed that he is as good at choosing sidemen as he is at playing guitar (or bass, or drums — we’re jealous  of him over here).

Mesko has already recorded “Dank Funk” with Alderson and drummer Forrest Young (also a very talented cat), at Summit Sound, in Eagle Rock. Jake Dempsey was at the board.

The Rootdowns all-original debut album Songs With Friends is available on CDbaby, Itunes and Amazon!

A big thanks to Tad Dickens for our first official review:

For those who love funky soul-jazz music, the field of players is not deep.

Dr. Lonnie Smith continues to wow audiences, including a Jefferson Center crowd in 2011. Soulive has backed away from full-time touring, though its drummer, Alan Evans, is leading his own strong trio these days. Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood only occasionally record and perform together. Nor is James Carter Organ Trio, which played Jefferson Center earlier this year, a full-time project.

 

But Virginia is lucky to have a strong act that advances the vibe of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Jack McDuff — legends of the Hammond B3-driven subgenre. The Rootdowns, a quartet with members in Richmond and Lynchburg, take their name from a classic Smith number. The band claims Smith, Soulive and the aforementioned John Scofield as influences.

And they show it on the band’s debut CD, “Songs With Friends.”

The Rootdowns have appeared multiple times at Blue 5 Restaurant over the past couple of years, but mostly as a trio — Brian Mahne on organ, Dusty Ray Simmons on drums and Brian Mesko on guitar. Before finishing “Songs With Friends,” the act added a fourth, Marcus Tenney on tenor saxophone and trumpet. That was a good addition to an already strong live lineup, and Tenney works out well on the new disc.

Disc opener “Boogie In My Room,” which mines the MSMW vibe, and the more Smith-type number “Handle With Care” show the band paying respect to those influences. Try to stay still while listening to “Porter Jr.” named for the iconic New Orleans bassist George Porter Jr.

Simmons and Mahne (on bass keys) lay down unstoppable grooves to support hip melodies and elevating solos, including plenty from Mesko, who has a deep vocabulary and great tone.

And on the record’s key instrument, the organ, Mahne is all taste, funk and swing, except when it’s time to get nasty. His mastery is most evident on “Family,” which combined with Mesko’s octave double-stops summons the vibe of Smith and George Benson’s association.

Even if The Rootdowns don’t quite transcend their influences, they are making music worth buying and worth hearing live.

A 2005 transplant to the Roanoke region, Brian Mesko has managed to build quite the local reputation. A quick listen to any one of his half dozen bands and it’s easy to see why this jazz, blues, funk, soul guitarist is a central figure in the local music scene.
Jenna Lazenby | Blue Ridge Rocks | 2016