REVIEW: Ron Kalina & Jim Self – The Odd Couple

Last year I reviewed an album that featured jazz harmonica (and it was actually my second review of the group’s music) and I also reviewed an album that showcased jazz on a bassoon. So I guess it makes perfect sense for me to review a new release starring a couple of guys who offer jazz played on harmonica and Tuba.

The aptly-named album is The Odd Couple, and it features the jazzier side of the tuba as played by Jim Self, along with the harmonica stylings of Ron Kalina. Self has several previous albums as leader and soloist on his tuba, and Kalina is an accomplished keyboardist in addition to his harmonica play. They’re accompanied here by Larry Koonse on guitar, Tom Warrington on bass, and drummer Joe La Barbara.

A spirit of good humor and joy is what I first noticed when listening to this album. The guys are obviously having a good time and they manage to communicate that feeling to the listener, not only with their choice of music but also in how they approach it.

A good example is the opener, “No More Mister Nice Guy,” with Kalina’s harmonica carrying the bouncing melody, and the close harmony of the duo on the title song, “The Odd Couple.” In case you were wondering, it is in fact the theme from the movie and long-running TV show of the same name, and inevitably makes the listener smile a little in reminiscence.

The arrangements – and Self’s own skill and instincts – keep his tuba play at a mostly soft level, often in a higher register (for a tuba) and that’s a very nice sound that fits the music very well. This is after all not a collection of Sousa marches.

Some of the other tracks include a couple of Charlie Parker classics, “Confirmation” and “Donna Lee,” both surprisingly well-served by the unusual combination of instruments here. There’s even some Brazilian jazz thrown into the mix, specifically Jobim’s “Someone To Light Up My Life,” although I felt that it could have been kicked up a little.

Overall, a surprisingly listenable collection of jazz tracks, and something a little different to be sure.

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