Jerome Sabbagh/Greg Tuohey Group at Smalls 12/6/17 (by EB Silverman)



PERSONNEL: Jerome Sabbagh (Tenor)  Greg Tuohey (Guitar) Orlando Le Fleming (Bass), Johnathan Blake (Drums)

SET LIST: Cotton (Sabbagh), Willamina (Tuohey), Ghostly (Tuohey), Heart (Sabbagh), Untitled Ballad (Tuohey), Orchard (Sabbagh)

HIGHLIGHTS: This relatively new group made a splash on a Wednesday night hit at Smalls. Together, Tuohey and Sabbagh’s compositions contain a few well-blended styles which captured the audience’s ears.

The 2nd set on a blustery Wednesday evening at Smalls began with a soft-spoken tone poem. Sabbagh’s “Cotton” featured a solemn tenor melody over a muted, haunting rhythm section. As soon as the song began to gain steam, the band took its foot off the gas and cadenced to finish a short, mature introduction to the band. The next two compositions featured contrasting compositional styles by Greg Tuohey. “Willamina,” a medium, bluesy-rock groove, and catchy 4 chord progression; while “Ghostly” offered a slow-swinger with denser harmony and a melody played in unison between the front men (Tuohey filled out the harmony underneath). “Heart” is another enthusiastic Sabbagh waltz like “Numero 6” off of Flipside (1998). The band also got into some interesting subdivisions and different phrasing lengths over both 3/4 time and 4 (and 8) bar statements.

Tuohey’s “Untitled Ballad” challenged the front line to phrase and blend an active line over a slower beat, leading to a powerful payoff when the tenor’s warm sound ascended in contrast with the guitar’s descending chords. “Orchard” began duo, the two co-leaders playing a refrain that cue’d the rhythm section into a driving, straight-8th beat. As the song progressed, Blake began reaching for new ideas behind the soloists, swelling towards an extended drum solo over a vamp before cueing the band towards the final notes, igniting the audience in (loud!) applause. I was impressed how keenly the composers/leaders of the band cultivated a modern sound through original composition while harnessing different musical influences. From a brisk waltz to funky, almost-folk grooves, this is a slick band with experienced songwriters and gatherers of a fresh sound.

— by EB Silverman