The buzz for awhile has been about alto saxophonist Grace Kelly, who has moved quickly to national and international stages. I’m sure you’ll agree that a young player like Ms. Kelly, just developing her talent, will want to learn all she can. Some of the best lessons she can learn are from listening to seasoned musicians in this town. The ones who’ve paid their dues, and honed their talent, over the decades. One such musician is Jim Repa.
A well-respected veteran reeds multi-instrumentalist, Repa appeared with the Mark Snyder Quartet at Ryles on May 31. He shared the bandstand with electric bassist Mark Snyder, drummer Rick Klane, and guitarist Andy Sohlberg. Repa, who played alto and soprano sax and flute that evening, understands how to “place” each horn for best effect, and how to say something with it. He is a contained, disciplined musician, a calm, professorial presence who just happens to get up and wail. In “Eiderdown,” his bebop lines were fluent. Switching to measured, meditative flute phrases for a Mark Snyder original, Repa’s sound was clean and bright. The funk in Repa’s “Red Dot Trail” in 7/4 used displacement for a quirky line that separated each solo. Here, he weaved complex statements on his soprano sax. He chose that instrument, too, for a Donegal-meets-Detroit tune that opened with a demanding Celtic-sounding line and relaxed to funk for the solos. Yet, in this all-electric setting, Repa was misplaced.
Luckily, it’s easy to hear Repa to perfect advantage – on his CD Destinations, engineered by Peter Kontrimas at PBS Studios. In a line-up of brass and reeds, what stands out is Repa’s solid craftsmanship, clarity, and thoughtfulness. Musical, improvisationally flowing, with fine tone, Repa’s good technique frees him to say what’s on his musical mind. He leads the band with a deft touch, switching from flute to alto, soprano, and piccolo. There’s a “just-so” feeling in this album, as if every detail – arrangements, personnel, and material - has been carefully plotted out. Released in 2009, it features excellent local musicians, several of them Berklee instructors, including Rick DiMuzio (tenor sax), Ken Cervenka (trumpet and flugelhorn), John Pierce (trombone), Doug Johnson (piano), Keala Kaumeheiwa (bass), John Baboian (guitar), Steve Langone (drums), and Anita Quinto (percussion). Bassist Bob Sinicrope plays on Eastern Dreams.
Stylistically diverse, the CD adroitly celebrates several - well, musical destinations. From the opening playful lead of Red Dot Trail, this well-rehearsed, well-engineered album makes for good listening. In Los Legartos, a tight, satisfying Latin arrangement with smart trumpet and piano solos is spiced up by Anita Quinto’s percussion. Off to South Africa next, and Repa plays Pan in a joyous fanfare dedicated to young musicians in Capetown. A delicate arrangement of singer-composer Mili Bermejo’s “Como Hacemos;” a quick tribute to Spain in 5/4 with some nice, lyrical work on bass; an homage to Africa and the Middle East; and a kicky mambo, all give the album, at least by reading the titles, a “world music” descriptor.
But that does a disservice to the music, whose titles include the fractious “Monkfish,” as well as a bossa reading of “Giant Steps” changes. There are also two standards. One of them, “Oliver,” ends the album quietly as a jazz/sax duo in 11/8, switching in and out of introduction, head, solos, and counterpoint.
So, yes, I’d be pleasantly surprised to find Miss Kelly in the audience at Jim Repa’s gigs. He has a lot to say with that horn.