Theo Czuk - The Black Bottom
Theo Czuk’s multi-pronged artistic life encompasses prose, poetry, songwriting, and musicianship with such all consuming energy you’ll be forgiven if you wonder when he finds time to breathe, let alone sleep. You can hear the unfettered joy of creation come across in each of the dozen songs on his newest release The Black Bottom, a collection subtitled Cultivating Jazz: The Full Measure, and the full measure he alludes to is the mighty task of surveying an entire genre within the course of twelve relatively brief songs. The level of musicianship behind these performances is extraordinarily high and never tests the listener’s patience. Much of that can be attributed to his seemingly endless wellspring of melodies at his disposal and the chemistry between Czuk and the musicians he’s enlisted to help make this album a reality. The Black Bottom is a powerful release, but it doesn’t beat on its chest with false bluster. Instead, it makes its case through inspiration and a commanding mastery of fundamentals.
“The Black Bottom” starts the album off impressively thanks to its bass line and wildly inventive keyboard playing. It’s also an early illustration of how these musicians never get carried away with themselves as the organ work could clearly overstep at any given moment but never does. His personality and charisma really comes across with the song “Cold Corridor” and he does a miraculously effective job of dramatizing the lyrical material. His writing doesn’t intend to remake the wheel, but it is nonetheless extremely sharp and it’s impossible to not be impressed by his talent for selecting memorable details. His charisma comes through again as a singer with the song “Let It Swing” and, for pure entertainment value, it’s arguably one of the finest moments on The Black Bottom. Another entertaining track comes with the songs “Nika Nightingale (Is It Real?)” and “Wooden Nickels” and they are particularly distinguished by Czuk’s undeniably funny but truly unique sense of humor, punchy choruses in each song, and a solid approach to the vocals. Sandwiched between these two songs, rather improbably, is his musical adaptation of Kenneth Patchen’s poem “Lunch Wagon on Highway 57” and it captures every bit of that Beat poetry married to music feel that Czuk is obviously seeking.
“Good Night’s Sleep” is a romping jazz number with a memorable mix of the serious and comical that is as polished as someone could hope for while the track “Pi to the Nth Degree” has great ambiance recalling the earlier “Cold Corridor” but with a distinctly upbeat slant. It sounds wide-eyed and enchanted with great melodies and changes carrying the day. “Catalina Eddy” is another loose, yet expertly delivered number with a warm spirit and even tosses in some play instrumental nods that will bring a smile to listener’s faces. The Black Bottom wraps up with a final instrumental, “Closing Time”, which plays to some popular tropes in the style but proves to be convincing closer in every respect. Theo Czuk’s bold experiment has paid off handsomely and it’s sure to bring tremendous enjoyment to anyone willing to give it a chance.