To the uninitiated, jazz generally falls into one of two broad categories -- that which is readily accessible and that which isn't. That's an unsophisticated observation to be sure, but one with which many non-aficionados will likely concur. Count Chuck Mangione, Spyro Gyra and, yes, Kenny G among those who purvey the former, and true masters like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sun Ra as examples of the latter. Fortunately though, a reliable melody doesn't always dictate the divide between music that's innovative and accomplished and the radio-ready pabulum that's more commonly classified as jazz-lite.
Credit bassist/composer Michael Feinberg, the highly heralded founder and director of a local arts organization called the Miami Creative Music Collective, with the ability to maintain his footing in both realms. While his latest effort, Evil Genius, isn't as sinister as its title implies, it is in fact intelligent, articulate and, happily, also inviting.
That's due in large part to the fact that it's clearly less intimidating than many jazz albums often seem on an initial encounter. Things kick off via the casual drift of the title track, a repeated piano motif that eventually gives way to a frenzied crescendo. However, intensity is an exception when it comes to most of these songs, given that the lazy, laconic drift of "Better Safe Than Sorry," "Nine To Five," and "Elizabeth, Are You Cool?" shade the overall ambiance.
Feinberg also sways his listeners with reliable references -- the ethereal vocals that haunt "Wzk June 2007," "Nine to Five" and "Jack Bauer" as well as the faint flamenco feel accorded "Two Left Feat." The sublime closer, "Untitled 1" provides a mellow, melodic send-off, borrowing a theme that recalls "Auld Lang Syne" in its bittersweet sentimentality.
Ultimately Evil Genius proves to be a provocative work, but one that's readily approachable as well. Feinberg deserves kudos for demonstrating a degree of tastefulness and finesse that's exceedingly difficult to come by.