Joe Fonda (Amsterdam, NY, 1954) has a great enthusiasm and it’s been my observation over the past couple of years that he lets little interrupt that enthusiasm for very long. If Joe is in the house, good times will be had.
This group arrived in the mid-afternoon following a 6 1/2 hour drive and, without any prompting, set up, corralled Marc, worked out the sound balance, and were set to play before supper.
Supper was consumed. Even so, the group managed to roll away from the table and the recording session was under way by 8 p.m. And while some of the material was not up to the level of the soundchecks (often the case for a first set), before the night was over, inspired performances on Full Circle Suite and Next Step were captured. After “Next Step” Joe called the session for the evening; he had developed considerable blisters on his right hand. Kevin Norton (Brooklyn, NY, 1956) continued to work out on the drums, more pent-up than fatigued, while Taylor Ho Bynum (Baltimore, MD, 1975), Chris Jonas (Newport Beach, CA, 1966), and Gebhard Ullman (Bad Godesberg, Germany, 1957) made an immediate retreat to the food.
The next morning we were back at it by 9:30 a.m., opening with It’s Good To Know You, a concept piece, according to Joe, which appeared to have no concept, at least not one obtrusive to the music. Following that, a return, for a second take, was made to Full Circle Suite. This composition (the music is a rather elaborate drawing/notation) is inspired by the medicine wheel with entrances and exits on the North, East, South, and West sides and with the encouragement to deal musically with meaningful things in one’s life. For the most part, to me, it suggests struggle and reconciliation, an episodic journey with very specific points of reference in the mind/heart juxtaposition. Both takes were wonderful features for the intense percussive drumming that is Kevin Norton’s style. Its lengthy development is a dynamic set-up for its cathartic climax. It is quite the centerpiece and the issued take here is take 1 (not an easy choice). A break followed “Full Circle” and the date was finished up with Deconstructed Borrowed Time (take 3 is issued here) and To Bob’s House.
Joe’s been working professionally since around 1971 and has a solid record of accomplishment, but in the mid ‘90s, I think, he began to move into more of a master’s position; his bass work took on a depth and his musical conception matured. Joe’s not a flashy guy and has never been the flavor-of-the-month with either the writers or corporate sponsors. He’s labored in relative obscurity in the role of journeyman Jazz artist and, for me, the emergence of his musical personality has been a pleasant surprise and one which kind of snuck up on me. For years Joe has, in his understated way, suggested that we work together on projects, but it wasn’t until his work with David Bindman’s Trio (CIMP 151) and Mark Whitecage’s Other Quartet (CIMP 157) that I really began to focus on his work. It was also around this time that Joe issued some fine work on the Belgian label DeWerf. For whatever reason, when Joe sent me a demo of this group I was ready to listen, liked what I heard and, after this session, am even more convinced we are both on the right track.
I kid Joe about his rather amorphous verbalization of his “concepts,” but, even though this group is made up of strong individuals (some with already extensive established careers, others on the bud), the music here really reflects a group cooperative executing the leader’s vision. And the ensemble quality produces music whose best reward is as whole cloth, not for its parts, as fine as those parts may be. Enjoy the whole.
Robert D. Rusch – 3/11/99