The Jim Cifelli New York Nonet Tunnel Vision Review

Released 2002.  

BBC Review

Trumpeter Cifelli leads his Nonet through a selection of standards and original tunes...

Ian Latham 2003

Tunnel Vision is New York trumpeter Jim Cifelli's third album with his Nonet. It's a typical offering from today's jazz college trained musician; technically competent but lacking key ingredients found in the best jazz -namely personality, identity, taste and soul.

The ensemble is shown in its best light on the opening "Go". It's a carefully constructed composition; the rhythm section phrases fit neatly with the horn parts, alternating between the tension of an ostinato bass figure and the release of the walking bass. The horn voicings are bright and pleasing, the playingtight and confident.

Cifelli (on trumpet) takes the first solo which tastefully emerges from the head, settling into a few choruses of standard bop fare before returning to an ensemble interlude. Joel Frahm follows with a hard hitting Michael Brecker style tenor solo, before guitarist Pete McCann takes over. The band negotiate an intricate ensemble passage before returning to the head. I'm certain this chart would get a good grade in college.

For all the sophistication of compositional technique, the tune itself is unmemorable and(crucially)lacks soul. Cifelli never manages to say anything really worthwhile in his soloing and stylistically he's completely without an individual voice. Frahm is at a similar level. For sure he can play, but he's yet another Brecker clone content to reel out his idols licks verbatim...

The ensemble phrasing is tight but there's not a hint of the sophisticated collective phrasing found in the best ensemble jazz, whether it be Gil Evans or Count Basie. Here, the horn section always sits square on the beat. It's about as straight as jazz ever gets.

Weaker still are the arrangements of established jazz classics. The Nonet's versions of Wayne Shorter's "Fee Fi Fo Fum" and "Speak No Evil" and the standard "What is This Thing Called Love" are quite simply tasteless. The latter is so weak it really isn't clear whether the arrangement is attempting to parody something or whether it's just a failed attempt at writing progressive harmony.

This album neatly exemplifies the weakness of todays jazz education in the US. Yes, they can train people to play in tune, to play in time, to sound impressive. But there are more important qualities that the colleges seem unable to nurture. Jazz is an art form which places a premium on individualism and the ability to express human emotions and feelings. The jazz education system may be an unfair target, but Cifelli and his Nonet (despite their technical accomplishment) somehow miss the point of what great jazz is all about. Tunnel Vision indeed.

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