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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/23/2013)
It's often interesting to consider where the inspiration for emerging bands and performers come from. Almost no one appears fully formed with a completely original sound, and the music business, especially back when it was dominated by the large record companies, tended to turn out lots of copycat bands to take advantage of some current hit. Most of those clone bands had a very short shelf life. On the other hand, some of my favorite groups are those that mix so many diverse influences, put together in perhaps unlikely ways, that the sound ends up quite original.
There are also the retro bands who don't copy the current money-making hit but draw on influences from the past. This week, we have a record by a group whose musical influences are worn on their sleeve, but are neither a copycat band or really a retro group, since most of their sources of influence remain active. The band is called The Summarily Dismissed, and their debut CD is called To Each.
It does not take long in hearing this group to surmised that they have listened to a lot of Steely Dan, which is a pretty good place from which to draw one's influence. But their publicity blurb fantasizes on what would happen if Todd Rundgren and the late Laura Nyro had had a daughter who took after both. That musical, though not literal, daughter in question is Ari Shagal, a New York-based keyboard player and composer, who only occasionally does vocals. The core of her somewhat variable group includes Joe Davi on guitar, Eric Halverson on drums, and Pat O'Leary of Bob Dorough's jazz group on bass. There are two principle lead vocalists who alternate, Matthew Lomeo and Ferima Faye. In keeping with the Steely Dan influence, there are also horns added with arrangements created by Ms. Shagal.
The band's P.R. also makes mention of their penchant for witty lyrics and comedic parts to their performance, and that is apparent, though often subtle, in several of the songs.
One of the problems with being influenced by group like Steely Dan is that it invites comparison's to the world-class musicianship and pristine production that are a Steely Dan trademark. That's pretty hard to duplicate, so I suppose that a cynic might call The Summarily Dismissed as a kind of lower-budget Steely Dan. The compositions are generally there with the recognizable harmonic complexity of Steely Dan, but the production quality and sometimes the vocals are not quite at that level. On the other hand, The Summarily Dismissed also creates tracks that draw on some other influences besides the work of Becker and Fagen.
However, the Steely Dan sound is front and center on the opening track, Oozing Awkward. Ferima Faye does the lead vocals on this song with clever lyrics. <<>>
The Summarily Dismissed's other main lead vocalist, Matthew Lomeo is in the spotlight on the song called Your Salve for Sorrow. Like other a number of other songs on the album, the track is a kind of quirky love song. <<>>
More toward a kind of jazz tune stylistically is the lyrically witty composition called Why Couldn't It Have Been Me.
One of the highlights of the album is a track called Tall and Resolute. The lyrics, complaining about being small in stature, are clever and the musical influences run more widely. It's one of only three tracks on the CD on which Ms. Shagal does lead vocals. <<>>
Ms. Shagal's influence by Laura Nyro is highlighted on a song called Limerent Buzz. The track features a guest appearance by percussionist Nydia Mata, who was in Ms. Nyro's band. <<>>
Bull Market is another lyrically astute song, this time taking on the hucksterism of financial world. <<>>
Ms. Shagal does her other lead vocal on a track called Jersey Babes, which has a kind of pre-rock swing sound. <<>>
The jazziest song on the recording is Shade-Walking on which guest vocalist Kenny Washington appears. <<>>
To Each, the debut album by the Summarily Dismissed, led by composer/keyboardist Ari Shagal is a worthwhile set of musically sophisticated, often lyrically clever music that frequently shows the group's Steely Dan influence. Since that kind of thing is rather rare on the music scene these days, I would not hold that against them, and their music also shows some other sources of inspiration. The musicianship is commendable, but the sound does tend to invite comparisons with Steely Dan, and that is a very high bar to meet. While compositionally the album is strong, there are some aspects in vocals and production that not quite there yet. Still it's a satisfying record of intelligent music that should appeal to those for whom three-chord pop has become a bore.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B plus. The Steely Dan comparisons make it tough competition, but the mix is generally well done. However in the mindless and pointless but sadly ubiquitous quest for maximum loudness, the sound was overly compressed and pushed to the point that there is some occasional vocal breakup.
The Summarily Dismissed's CD To Each was actually made in 2010, but is only now launching some national promotion and presumably distribution. The group has played occasionally in the New York area. Hopefully now they will find some wider audiences.
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