When we last left our intrepid instrumental road warriors, Marbin was stranded in the rural Tennessee compound of some seriously Aggressive Hippies. Now the finale of that nail-biting cliffhanger has been scored with the album-closing track Escape From Hippie Mountain. It’s a rousing funk-laden jam that should inspire every listener to get up and move, unless they’re nailed in place. Danny Markovitch’ joyously percussive tenor sax riff begins our chase sequence with Dani Rabin joining the fray for some tasty call-and-response trade-offs. The rhythm section of Jon Nadel and Blake Jiracek keep things bouncing along in buoyant fashion, bringing to mind some of that Meters’ magic. Danny doesn’t break out the tenor sax very often but based on the results here it’s a weapon he should feel free to yield as often as he wishes. His solo on this track conjures up the rhythmic escapades of players like Eddie Harris and Stanley Turrentine, it’s a strutting, confident ass-kicker of a break. After a mid-song bridge Dani Rabin steps to the fore with a blistering guitar solo steeped in Texas twang, here and elsewhere on the album the influence of Stevie Ray Vaughan looms large.
The rest of Goatman & The House Of The Dead invites us on a musical travelogue of regional and ethnic influences, blended effortlessly in catchy instrumental pieces that leave plenty of room for jazz improvisation. It is an enticing melting pot; a fusion in the literal sense. The journey conjures up images of gypsy caravans, of spaghetti western ghost towns and countless other destinations both real and fictional. It’s music in motion, pieces written on the road that carry their forward motion in their DNA.
I love the balance that Marbin achieves in their arrangements. Many instrumental bands have a tendency to either over-compose their pieces; leaving limited space for improvisation, or they under-compose and you end up with strings of solos with no melodic through-line to anchor the listener. That is a trap that Marbin ably avoids. Pieces like the bewitching Money Train work as accessible, enjoyable songs in addition to being perfect springboards for the flights of saxophone and guitar fancy they inspire. Marbin isn’t creating music that only fellow musicians can appreciate; their infectious spirit should capture the attention of even casual listeners.
Let’s take a deeper look at a couple of my favourite songs from Goatman…. Whiskey Chaser is a mind-bender, the type of song that can make musicians curse their limitations and head back to the woodshed for a few more years of practice. After the blinding complexity of the introduction the piece settles down briefly to showcase the gorgeous sound that Danny Markovitch conjures from his curved soprano saxophone. The influence of Sidney Bechet, Frankie Trumbauer and other early 20th century jazz players are obvious and lovingly applied in his tone. Many modern jazz musicians have a tendency to not look back farther than the classic 1950s era for inspiration, I’m grateful that Danny has chosen to venture deeper into the roots of the music. Dani Rabin follows with a particularly inspired guitar solo that begins sparsely, beautifully, before cranking the intensity in the second half for a rousing conclusion. It reaches Allan Holdsworth levels of dexterity without ever devolving into shred.
The album centrepiece is Carnival, a multi-layered epic that builds slowly and majestically from a plaintive, almost dirge-like introduction (with Danny’s soprano blowing evocatively over the top) to a full-blown jazz/prog fusion workout. The rhythm section is laser-sharp and driving, creating the perfect foundation for the solos to build from. Danny switches back to tenor sax here for a stunning solo that’s my personal favourite on the album. His relatively light tone on tenor coupled with the gutsy rhythmic intensity brings to mind players like Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders. The introductory theme re-enters to set the stage for another particularly ferocious guitar solo from Dani, his touch impeccable as usual; I’m especially fond of his use of vibrato. Most bands are lucky if they can claim one soloist who reaches the calibre demonstrated here, Marbin has a double-barrel attack.
Marbin keeps getting better with each successive release and Goatman & The House Of The Dead is yet another enjoyable stop on a musical journey I hope continues for a long time to come.
01. Buddha Complex (5:28)
02. Goatman (5:58)
03. The House Of The Dead (3:56)
04. Whiskey Chaser (intro) (1:26)
05. Whiskey Chaser (7:04)
06. Electric Zombieland (6:15)
07. Money Train (6:11)
08. Carnival (9:52)
09. Escape From Hippie Mountain (7:20)
Total time – 53:24
Dani Rabin – Guitar
Danny Markovitch – Sax
John Nadel – Bass Guitar
Blake Jiracek – Drums
Record Label: Moonjune Records
Date of Release: 29th September 2016