For their fifth album, the Oregon-based Rhythm Dogs took advantage of the pandemic downtime to create their finest effort, aptly titled “Rewired.”
The band fuses the elements of jazz, AfroBeat, ska, reggae, dub, blues, and their trademark funk on this effort with stunning results.
The album starts with a horn fanfare followed by an AfroBeat-inspired composition “The Mad Drums of God” which culminates in a duet of Chuk Barber on percussion and Mark Burdon on drums. The record then switches gears with Mark von Bergen’s slapped bass drenched in a Bootsy-like envelope filter laying the foundation for a jazz-funk workout. Here guest guitarist Jennifer Batten – veteran of world tours with Michael Jackson and with guitarist Jeff Beck – explodes with a wild and layered solo. She returns for another hard groove tune, “Invisible Man,” with similar abandon and taste.
Then a stripped-down rhythm section tackles the first of two ballads, Chris Azorr’s beautiful composition “KFC.” And later, this time with horns, the band adds a mysterious and breathtaking “Irene.” On these tunes, von Bergen plays an NS Design 5-string electric upright which lends thickness and power. Azorr’s piano playing on the ballads is creative, sophisticated, and tasteful.
One of the original masters of Jamaican dub, Hopeton “Scientist” Brown provides an old-school dub mix of the odd-metered (7/8) reggae tune “Under the Influence of a Groove” and the fast-paced “Cat Club Ska,” the latter featuring another exciting percussion duel. Also featured on “Under the Influence of a Groove” is a veteran of Ziggy Marley’s band, Michael Hyde, whose keyboards provide a skanking counterpart to Azorr’s deft organ.
This is an all-instrumental set of originals. The melodies and arrangements are solid, played with precision and intensity, and the improvisations are ambitious and inspired. Mary-Sue Tobin’s tenor and alto saxophones and Greg Scholl’s trombone form a solid horn section when joined together to sound out the heads. Even more impressive is their well-honed improvisation skills, creating bold, sometimes inside-outside, exploratory solos that stand up nicely to Batten’s aggressive six-string wizardry on her two cuts.
Even though the Rhythm Dogs cover a multitude of styles, time signatures, and song structures, “Rewired” is a cohesive 66-minute program of new music. Sequenced carefully, the album is worth digesting in one sitting or song by song. Regardless of where the needle drops, you will be impressed by the musicality of the improv-heavy set.
CDs are available at rhythm-dogs.com, and the album is streaming on Apple Music, Spotify, and other services.