Eight-string guitarist Jon Morrow and drummer/vibraphonist Shane Parreco make up the highly original duo The Odd Meters. Based out of North Carolina, they play an intoxicating mixture of jazz, funk, and Latin music, all with a unique twist - they specialize in writing compositions in (you guessed it) odd time meters. On their first full length release Uncommon Denominator, the band is augmented by some local heavyweights - Jeff Sipe on drums, Kofi Burbridge on flute, Mike Seal on guitar, Stephen K. Wilson on trombone, and Jason Maloney on percussion. Simply put, it's an addictive, funkified jazz album that grows on you with each listen.
When you think of 8-string guitar, you can't help but think of Charlie Hunter. However, if there's any semblance to Hunter's music here, it's in the grooves more than the guitar playing. Morrow can hold down the bottom in a bass-free setting as well as Hunter can, but his style is all his own. His ability to deliver bass lines, chords, and upper-register melodies, all at the same time, is continually impressive throughout Uncommon Denominator.
Though there's plenty of great playing here from Morrow and everyone else, the compositions themselves are what draw you in. It's my feeling that in some settings, particularly in western music where it's not as common, odd meter writing can come off as gimmicky. It can be quite jarring when a band shoe-horns in a section of, say, 5 or 7, just because they can. The Odd Meters never overplay their hand in that regard. Whatever meter they happen to be working in "works" in every song. There are odd-time rhythms on Uncommon Denominator, such as in "5 Fingers 3 Feet" for example, where the groove is so easy to latch onto that you hardly notice it's not 4/4. In other tracks, such as the opener "Fortie" (a 5/4 piece), the odd rhythm has a subtle trance-like quality. While listening to this disc, I never got that out-of-sorts "Where's the one?" feeling I get from some odd time music I've heard. Mind you, this is not an album of wall-to-wall odd time songs; some traditional meters are utilized also, such as in the super-funky "Gummy Worm," and the closer "Busted Trampoline" (which has a nice drum solo by Parreco).
Beyond their choice of time signatures, the band's stylistic choices never feel out of place either. It's all jazz, make no mistake; but it's often flavored with other ingredients. I was particularly drawn in by the band's explorations into Latin music ("Azteca," "Coble Vensualez"), and funk ("5 Fingers 3 Feet," "Gummy Worm," "Busted Trampoline"). They even dabble with Indian influences for the dreamy "Ragamatra," which has some of Morrow's best chordal and octave playing on the album.
Kofi Burbridge's flute work needs to mentioned, as it's a perfect match for the Odd Meters' music. On the three tracks he guests on ("Fortie," "Double Positive," and "Azteca"), his dynamic lines really heighten the mood, especially when he's doubling Parreco's vibes. The other guests make great contributions as well - "Gummy Worm" in particular has some nice playing from Mike Seal (guitar) and Stephen K. Wilson (trombone) that greatly enhances the tune. The always-impressive Jeff Sipe plays drums on a couple of tracks, and, not surprisingly, lays down some great stuff. (Both Morrow and Parreco studied under Sipe at Brevard College in North Carolina.)
Uncommon Denominator is one of those albums that could easily reside in your music player of choice for a long time, as it delivers a particular, unique vibe you'll keep going back for again and again. That vibe is a certain "fun factor" that stems from the enthusiasm and creativity with which the Odd Meters play their music. Highly recommended for fans of well-played, funky jazz.
Jon Morrow (8-string guitar)
Shane Parreco (Drums, Percussion, Vibraphone)
Jeff Sipe (Drums) 6, 10 (Timbales) 6
Kofi Burbridge (Flute) 1, 4, 6
Mike Seal (Guitar) 1, 2, 4, 9
Stephen K. Wilson (Trombone) 7, 9
Jason Maloney (Congas, Percussion) 8
2. A Half Step
3. 5 Fingers 3 Feet
4. Double Positive
7. 5 is the new 4
9. Gummy Worm
10. Coble Vensualez
11. Busted Trampoline