Samir Zarif

The Funky Butt

July 12, 2004

Saxophonist Samir Zarif saved the most difficult song for last. As the first set neared the end, his band members knew it was coming, but still…things went wrong. Zarif paced in frustration as studious drummer Jason Marsalis looked to him for direction. Marsalis tried to find the right beat for alto saxophonist Rex Gregory’s solo, but he settled on a generic groove until he found his bearings.

You know what’s great about this instance? It was the exception Monday night at The Funky Butt as Zarif was also joined by Astral Project guitarist Steve Masakowsi and Quintology bassist Edwin Livingston. The band’s moment of confusion was endearing, and it made them human. They were a wonderful machine the rest of the set. They played ballads, frenzied freaked-out snippets, and straight swinging numbers. They alternated between be-bop and hard bop.

Masakowski and Livingston played their parts well and allowed the other three to shine. Zarif played a speedy soprano sax solo that left me confused in amazement. Gregory was a tall man, and his medium-sized sax looked tiny in comparison. He swayed with his instrument like a large man having sex with a small woman. Complete control. Despite the talent of the saxophonists, Marsalis was the band's most valuable player.

He was a freak of nature. He knew exactly what to play, how to play it(sticks, brushes or fag sticks), when to play it. He gave a great funky feel to the songs, and his unexpected flourishes added a kick when the songs lost a bit of their luster. Still, he wasn't overbearing. His kick drum sounded more like a tom-tom drum than anything. He was the only one playing without notes, but he had a knack for knowing when to accentuate hooks with cymbal strikes. This gave the music more of a pop.

The band played Horace Silver's "Peace" and Charlie Parker's "Bloomdido," the standard "Have You Met Ms. Jones," and three original Zarif compositions--"Second Encounter," "Rains for West," and "Love is Not a Cliche." I enjoyed the Zarif's pieces as much as the classics.

The bottom floor performance was well attended. Zarif could have engaged the crowd more, but he made up for it with his earnesty.

This was an all-star band. Zarif was smart to give up some of the spotlight and invite such a talented cast to be in his group.


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