ALBUMS: Renowned Reedist Avram Fefer Returns With Juba Lee

His electrically charged quartet exceeds expectations on second LP

Avram Fefer Quartet Juba Lee, Clean Feed Records 2022

Following up 2019’s excellent album, Testament, Avram Fefer recently released the equally enchanting Juba Lee. 

Fefer, who plays tenor and alto saxophone along with bass clarinet, originally formed this ensemble as a trio with Eric Revis on double bass and Chad Taylor on drums. But with the aforementioned Testament he expanded the trio to a quartet, adding the formidable Marc Ribot on guitar. The results have been impressive. If Testament dazzled listeners, Juba Lee will exceed their already high expectations.

Artist: Avram Fefer Quartet

Album: Juba Lee

Label: Clean Feed Records

★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars) 

The quartet serves up a wide variety of moods and tunes on Juba Lee. The album opener “Showtime” is an angular, swinging chart, rhythmically agile and full of sharp turns. Fefer and Ribot both perform excellent solos and set the stage for the excellent album to come.

After the initial mission statement of “Showtime”, “Bedouin Dream” and “Sky Lake” lead things into dreamier territory. Revis employs ostinato bass figures on both and locks into hypnotic grooves with Taylor. Fefer’s horn work dominates the former while he and Ribot share the stage on the latter. Both tunes are impressively composed, the logic of melodies and structure revealing themselves at a measured pace.

Ribot leads the charge on the title track, his electric guitar’s melody statement is strongly reminiscent of Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages, but the alternating sections add in elements of swing, although with a bit of John Zorn’s Masada songbook influencing the tune as well. The solos take place in a more free jazz context with Ribot providing haunting on drones for Fefer to play over. 

The number of moods and styles on Juba Lee is stunning. “Brother Ibrahim” gives a nod to afro-funk, but Fefer’s solo stretches to the outside, reaching rarified heights. “Love Is In The Air” follows but is a mellow, free jazz ballad. “Gemini Time” pivots once again, this time engaging in a more avant-garde, pointillistic groove a la Ornette Coleman’s Primetime. In addition to Fefer and Ribot’s solos, Revis joins in with his own lead work, a solo that walks a fine line between jazz walking and finger funk solo. This is followed by another free tune, “Say You’re Sorry” which invokes blues tonalities but avoids conventional rhythm.

Juba Lee artwork (Image: Clean Feed Records)

The album closes with “Sweet Fifteen (for G.T.)”, a tune dedicated to the memory of Greg Tate, whose work as a music journalist is monumental, and he also was the bandleader of Burnt Sugar and founder of the Black Rock Coalition. But the melancholy of the tune is much more than a recounting of his accolades, this is an emotionally powerful piece befitting the friendship between Fefer and Tate. “Sweet Fifteen (for G.T.)” is a simple duet between guitar and bass clarinet. Ribot provides a simple Brazillian riff for Fefer to solo over. Fefer’s playing is emotionally impactful but avoids cheap sentimentality. 

If Juba Lee provides a joyous center for the album, “Sweet Fifteen (for G.T.)” provides a more poignant contrast. The tension between these two polar moods opens the album up to a wide variety of expressions. This release covers an amazing amount of ground but each tune is equally convincing. The musicianship is stunning and Fefer’s role as both composer and bandleader is impressive. He provides strong enough material to make Juba Lee sound cohesive yet unpredictable, while also giving room for each of these heavyweight jazz musicians to be themselves. 

Juba Lee is an absolute joy and not an album that listeners should let slip by. 


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Todd Manning

Todd Manning is a recovering musician who mostly writes about Metal and Jazz various places around the internet, including Burning Ambulance, Cvlt Nation and No Clean singing. He lives in Indianapolis, IN.

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