Took me a couple of listens to get the hang of this one. At first expecting an assemblage of burning chops (Richman has, after all, torn things up considerably in recent trib' efforts), I found myself instead settling into a form of E-Z jazz fusion in a vein I really never expect to hear much anymore but used to enjoy immensely in such musicians as Casiopeia, Walt Barr, Mezzoforte, Shakatak, and others. Those long-lost 70s LPs are items I tend to I hang tightly on to, but those not familiar with such obscurantia may want to think of an instrumental Crusaders circa the Carlton Era. To achieve that kind of sound, Richman grouped together a session gaggle of stalwarts like Abraham Laboriel, Jeff Beal, Mitch Forman, and Simon Phillips along with several not-so-luminescents and a really good beat-heavy drummer by the name of Will Kennedy.
The emphasis in Aqua is on the groove, everyone tossing their lines in with constant variation and smoothly funky voicings. Connections can be made atmospherically with Steve Khan's superb output of the last 20 years, though his ethnic airs aren't present here. Beal's trumpet on Priceless carries a distinctively flat intonation pulling the listener into unexpected nuances, and The Big Step is quite Blow by Blow-ish (Jeff Beck's masterpiece) with a flighty Brandon Fields sax center. Richman takes the opportunity to cut wild in several places, always maintaining his bourbon-smooth approach, though. A lengthy cut, in it a lot of room is afforded the players to jam and hang, wringing the seven minutes for all they're worth.
Except for one track, the songs are all Richman's and illustrate the sort of wine-aged erudition that comes with long experience. There are pronounced Martino and Metheny touches that never resort to ape-ery, standing in the sort of imported learning one expects of serious musicians. Mitch Forman complements the traits brilliantly, bringing a sound and touch simultaneously trad and to-the-minute, appearing on half the cuts, supplying a flavor of keyboard sounds backgrounding listener expectations while tweaking them. The only cover on the disc is a dreamily snappy take on Neil Young's Down by the River, the sort of reading that will have Neil cabling his delight with the almost Mancini-oriented take stepping down into George Benson and Walter Becker territories.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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