The Black Bottom is the latest full-length release from Oregon based singer/songwriter, novelist, and poet Theo Czuk. The dozen songs, subtitled Cultivating Jazz: The Full Measure, definitely delves deep into the genre’s lexicon and makes a great show of pouring old wine into shining new bottles. Despite the indie nature of the recording, it is a spectacularly polished release with warm production and an ear towards balance that distinguishes it from similar near DIY efforts.
Czuk is clearly a talented performer and musical presence, but his writing chops are equally honed and result in intensely human material Even listeners unfamiliar or typically not admirers of jazz will find much to enjoy with these songs and the artistic coherence underlying the collection as a whole makes it an impressive release by any measure. Theo Czuk’s The Black Bottom is as fully realized as it gets in any form.
This is apparent from the first song alone. “The Black Bottom” is the album’s title song and leading off with it denotes a certain confidence in Czuk’s presentation born out by later tunes. It has a marvelous bass line with great interplay with the drumming and their exchange provides a sturdy foundation for some restrained, yet very inventive keyboard playing streaking over the top.
“Cold Corridors” is the album’s first track with vocals and lyrics – it’s a doozy. Czuk’s rough-hewn yarn recalls film noir and gritty urban realism in such a way that you finish the track every bit convinced that he’s a more than effective novelist. His “eye” for significant detail is outstanding. The production is, arguably, at its most “affected” for the song, but it never gets over as pretentious self-indulgence but, instead, embellishes the lyrics quite effectively. “Let It Swing” is a musical clinic of sorts, but it’s an equal amount of fun for the listener to hear the obvious relish Czuk takes in working alongside such top notch musicians.
Theo Czuk Brings Us Back To Classic Style Jazz
“Mi Casa Bossa” is one of the absolute best instrumental numbers on The Black Bottom and the Latin flavor is never overplayed or lapses into cliché. It’s another notable factor in this release how the songs confine themselves to manageable lengths while still encompassing vast musical worlds and “Mi Casa Bossa” is a prime example of that aesthetic in action. “Lunch Wagon on Highway 57” has Theo Czuk at his most literary setting a Kenneth Patchen poem to music with great imagination.
“Good Night’s Sleep” bristles with a surprising amount of attitude while still maintaining a stylish slant characteristic of the album as a whole. “Catalina Eddy” will definitely entertain many with its off-kilter musicality and the ample humor he incorporates into the performance. There’s something in this album for everyone and Theo Czuk’s The Black Bottom rates as this talented artist’s finest effort yet. It concludes the year on an eminently sophisticated note while remaining genuine the entire time.
You can hear the record on NAPSTER. (I didn’t even know they were around anymore, lol!)
-review by Shannon Cowden