By Hrayr Attarian
Chuck Webb Guru Tonic
Chuck Webb – Basses
Tom Vaitsas – Piano, keyboards
Tim Fitzgerald – Guitar
Linard Stroud – Drums, percussion
Chicago native Chuck Webb is a versatile and talented bassist whose busy performing schedule has not stopped him from building an equally brilliant career as an educator. His signature sound is a delectable and engaging fusion of funk, R&B and jazz. This is well demonstrated on Guru Tonic, a charming and enjoyable live date with Webb’s eponymous quartet.
Recorded on August 31, 2019, at the Blue Nocturne Club in Chicago, the disc features a cohesive mix of originals and covers. It opens with Webb’s own slowly simmering “Yellow.” Guitarist Tim Fitzgerald’s eloquent lines over the swaggering vamps add an intimacy to the tune, while his blistering improvisation is steeped in the blues. Keyboardist Tom Vaitsas constructs a spontaneous melody out of dense and resonant refrains.
The album’s ambience is exuberant and crackles with excitement—something that is audible in the audience responses. This is true on tracks with an electric instrumentation as well as those with acoustic ones. On the Davis/Feldman composition “Seven Steps to Heaven,” for instance, Webb switches to the double bass and Vaitsas to the piano. The latter alternates bright cascading notes with percussive chords in a showcase of superb virtuosity. Fitzgerald’s spontaneous phrases brim with effervescence over the song’s Latin-esque cadence. Webb takes center stage with his thrilling, lithe acrobatics—leading up to drummer Linard Stroud’s thunderous solo.
Equally exciting is the group’s take on soul singer and keyboardist Donny Hathaway’s classic, “Valdez in the Country.” Stroud’s propulsive beats and Webb’s muscular thumps build the framework for Vaitsas and Fitzgerald’s alternating, imaginative interpretations of the main melody. Webb extemporizes with confidence and intricately crafted embellishments on the piece’s main theme. This is met with bursts of enthusiastic applause and shouts of approval as a return to the head ushers in the conclusion.
As expected from Webb, Guru Tonic is a highly entertaining and delightful disc. The ensemble’s charismatic performances and Webb’s infectious compositions make this an inviting and passionate work. The seamless overlap of styles transforms it into a record that will prove to have a wide appeal.