Since 1994, Mekiel Reuben has been teasing our jazz sensitivities with tantalizing offerings. Here, with Cookin’ in East L.A., he seeks to stays true to form.
For those unfamiliar with the saxman, let’s start with a little bio. Born in the windy city (Chicago), Reuben later ventured out and took up residence in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. After several years of touring and performing with several theatrical/dance companies there, he decided to continue following his dream of becoming a recording artist in the States and would later return here to study with the legendary saxophonist Bill Greene, in addition to studying at Los Angeles City College and West Los Angeles City College. When he had compiled over a hundred original compositions, he started his own label under the name of MekMuse Records. He now has several releases to his label’s credit: Miles Away (a dedication to Miles Davis) in 1994, Simply Peaceful in 1996, Shadows of Love in 2000, Hangin’ in the Moonlight in 2005, and this well-done 2009 release. Quite the accomplishment for an independent artist. Also of considerable note is his 20-year (and counting) dedication to helping disabled students at the Benjamin Banneker Special Education Center in Los Angeles whenever he’s not on tour.
Now, to the CD, Cookin’ in East L.A. This album provides some steady funk in the form of either originals or competent interpretations of covers-- and there are quite a handful of covers here (I know, I know, but don’t shy away. They’re good!). In fact, he opens with the Chaka Khan classic “Ain’t Nobody” with a pretty nice slice of funk and mid-tempo rhythm. It is a tad sluggish for me, but his sax does attempt to fill a lot of the void. However, anything lacking in the first cut is pretty much nullified by the “phat” grooves that follow, as with the 2nd track, “Sure Thang,” another mid-tempo groove with a lot of bottom and swagger. The rhythmic track that follows, “Blackwood,” carries with it some light magic, as well.
I have to tip my hat to Reuben for his handling of the Patti Austin/James Ingram signature charmer, “Baby Come To Me,” done quite well, indeed. His sax works hard to show that this can be accomplished without one disturbing the charm and grace of Austin’s and Ingram’s rendering of the tune. He succeeded quite notably, in my opinion. He also renders an interesting take on Jim Croce’s hit “Operator,” as close to the coziness of the original as one can hope to get, though the nostalgia of it does make you miss the folk rocker. Reuben’s own “Love Triangle” and the cover of crooner Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’” bring that snappy, soulful funk to which I am extremely partial, and he delivers it with the zest I always seek, as well. Lots of supportive bottom, and—in the case of his original--a really decent hook and melody. Of course, what else but drive and danceability would you expect from a cover of the classic Kool & The Gang hit “Too Hot?” He closes with the sharp and decently funky title track with a lot of bounce (and a few chuckles thrown in for effect).
Mekiel Reuben has talent to boot, and his selections here are, for the most part, smart and full of body. There are clear indications that he knows how to “bring it.” Watch this cat closely.Posted by Ronald Jackson at October 7, 2009 6:16 PM