On “Cosmic Dog,” the Rhythm Dogs, a Portland band, serve up a brilliant blend of groove-oriented jazz, funk, reggae, ska, blues, Latin, and Afro pop. From the opening Mahavishnu-esque chord sequence of “Mike” to the tripped-out dub remix of the tune “Cosmic Dog” that closes the disc, the Rhythm Dogs satisfy and at times startle the listener.
The band is made up of three horn players – trombonist Greg Scholl, alto saxophonist Adrian Baxter, and tenor saxophonist Luke “The Truth” Soasey – keyboardist Chris Azorr, drummer John Rink, and bassist Mark von Bergen. All songs are written by members of the band and feature well-crafted melodies over a deep groove propelled forward by the rock solid drumming of Rink and the muscular and elastic upright and bass guitar of von Bergen. The structures of the songs allow the horns to stretch out: Scholl plays with a clear and powerful tone, alternating between inventive restatements of themes and rhythmically strong workouts. Soasey’s tenor is expressive and thoughtful while Baxter’s alto is edgy and adventurous; their two-horn fiery battle in “Dub Meltdown” is a highlight. Azorr, who along with Baxter was a member of the popular neo-swing/ska/punk band of the early MTV-era, the Cherry Popping Daddies, contributes a jazz waltz gem, “Monkey”; throughout the album Azorr provides expertly crafted rhythmic foundations and dynamic solos.
For good measure, the Rhythm Dogs throw in two guests who come from entirely different worlds of modern music but who, because of the band’s eclectic sound, fit perfectly. Guitarist Jerry Hahn, who appears on three cuts, is a pivotal figure in modern jazz history; his contributions to the bands of Gary Burton and John Handy are legendary, and recordings under his own name in the Sixties set out a blueprint for much of jazz-rock guitar to follow. His playing on this disc is remarkable – mature and soulful with a beautiful tone. Listen to the back half of “Blues and the Apocalyptic Truth” for Hahn’s update of the sound that has influenced cutting-edge guitarists for more than four decades.
What really stands this record on its head is the appearance of Jamaican legend Scientist, one of the earliest and most influential figures in dub music. Here he launches two of the band’s tunes – the ska-based “Dub Meltdown” and the syncopated title song – into the outer circles of dub, employing the same echo-drenched treatment that he has given to recordings of the most important figures in roots reggae – Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sly & Robbie, and Bob Marley among them – as well as contemporary dubstep recordings. If you haven’t already acquired a taste for the psychedelic sound of dub, the Scientist’s contributions here give you an opportunity to do just that.
To order “Cosmic Dog,” go to www.facebook.com/rhythmdogs.
To order music by Jerry Hahn, go to www.jerryhahn.com.