The Toronto Star

Saturday, October 9, 1999
World Music Reviews by Geoff Chapman

The Call

The T.O. based band always manages to sound as if it has absorbed world influences without sliding down the slippery path to nowhere (as in fusion), probably because percussionist Lazar is at the helm and his Police buddies are so versatile – reedman John Johnson, keysman Gord Sheard and violinist Hugh Marsh in particular. The core beat, courtesy of bass Collin Barrett and drummer Mark Kelso, is always uplifting as on samba-reggae “Dr Seuss”, the funky “4-Day Runner” and Cuban tribute “Mambo Squad”. American guest trumpeter Randy Brecker catches the spirit.

Drums etc

by T.Bruce Wittet
Volume 3 No 5, November – December 1999

The Call
Rick Shadrach Lazar
Montuno Police

I took Toronto percussionist Rick Lazar out to lunch, paid the bill myself, just so I could bear him talk. Maybe some of his ‘cool’ would rub off on me. After all, New Yorker magazine, quoting bandleader Paul Shaffer, devoted half a column to this very important facet of Rick’s demeanor.

Seriously, if everything after the first track, ‘Dr Seuss’ were blank, my day would be richer for the groove – train beat comme Latin – inflicted by Lazar and Kelso. You know, we romanticize Memphis rhythm sections but we could be looking much closer to home. Add trumpeter and special guest Randy Brecker to the usual bunch – Hugh Marsh, Collin Barret, Lester Boyke, John Johnson, and Gordon Sheard – and it’s infallible. Mostly recorded live, this CD is the tightest, most exciting to have come down the pike in ages. For example, you will rarely hear Songo as exciting as ‘Mambo Squad.’ Rick’s percussion covers the full bandwidth: It’s no big deal to clatter around in the upper registers; he’s got all the lower-mids down, as well. New Yorker got it right.

The New Yorker Magazine

Paul Shaffer had to wait until he was twelve before he got to Las Vegas for the first time. It was April, 1962. “We stayed at the Riviera,” Shaffer-the bandleader and musical director of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman”-recalled when I spoke with him recently.

“Chancellor’s dinner: parents; the mayor; local dignitaries; friends who had come up for this thing. It was a little bit deadly. But I had my troops there. Rick Lazar-we used to refer to him as Funky Ricky. He’s got a band in Toronto now. He was the only one who didn’t have a straight job.

“Ricky-Funky Ricky-was always ahead of his time. He is of Assyrian origin, this guy. He has very dark skin, and so in the old days, as a sixteen year-old kid, he had a look about him. He looked like Willy DeVille looks now, or something. And pointed shoes. He was into dressing. He dressed outlandishly way back then, way before his ‘time. Even after I went away to college – even after I came to New York – I used to go back home and see Ricky, to find out what was happening. Down in his little basement, where, he had his apartment set up in his parents’ place, he kept up. He had a stack of Downbeat magazines: he knew what was going on. More so than I did. His contribution to the party was a version of James Brown’s ‘Living in America.’ With special lyrics-‘Living in-a Thunder Bay.’ And at the very end of it, quoting from the Young Rascals, he turned to me and said, ‘Doctor, Doctor, Mr. Ph.D. Play some-funky organ – play it one time for me.’ Then I went into a solo. It was a killing moment.
January 16, 1989

The Jazz Report

In a country where mainstream jazz rules, it’s unfortunate Montuno Police will never garner the attention or airplay they would surely attract south of the border. Rick Lazar has assembled and rehearsed his unit to completeness. Keyboardist Gord Sheard provides the group with several originals primed with quirky melodic lines and elaborate counterpoint. This recording is contemporary in every sense of the word.

All This Jazz

Rick Lazar, Karen Young and Tom Walsh talk to Craig Silverman about Barry White, the Titanic, Corn Flakes and the joys of playing the Atlantic Jazz Festival.

Rick Shadrach Lazar looks funky. And that’s not a bad thing. No, no. Even David Letterman’s Canuck sidekick Paul Shaffer acknowledges it. Shaffer and Lazar used to play together quite a bit as kids, and that was when the percussionist earned the nickname Funky Ricky.

“That was his name for me,” says Lazar via phone from Toronto. “But you can use those nicknames on a few different levels, right.”

The leader of Montuno Police – a conglomeration of some of the country’s finer studio and freelance musicians – has more than a few major tours under his belt, along with a Juno nomination for his group’s last disc, Touch. He’s a regular of Loreena McKennitt’s touring band and smacked some skins behind the greatest lover of all, Barry White. Dig?

“That was a thrill,” Lazar says with a chuckle. (But how could you not have a good time on tour as part of the Love Unlimited Orchestra?). “It was my first exposure to that kind of scene. After the first show somebody in his entourage took me backstage because Barry wanted to meet me. He shook my hand and told me I was doing a great job. He was really big then. It was definitely a blast.”

Lazar and his fellow officers of the Montuno Police have earned themselves quite a reputation for their hybrid of world rhythms, relentless groove and creative interplay. The band flawlessly mixes sounds from Brazil, Cuba and the Middle East with contemporary jazz. The result is strikingly natural – like Barry White dressed in silk and sitting at a piano with a bucket of KFC tucked under his bench.

“It’s a great band for a musician to be in.” says Lazar. “It’s an outlet for everything in your head. We focus on strong rhythm and groove and then mix in Cuban, African, Brazilian and Arabic rhythms.”

Funky Ricky says his head is filled with sounds of the Middle East these days.

“Lately I’ve really been into Arabic rhythms. That’s just where my head’s at right now. It could be Brazilian tomorrow.”

Their conglomeration of sounds make Lazar and his mates prime suspects for another precinct – the Jazz Police. Fearlessly searching out anyone not playing with a walking bass line, spang-a -lang cymbal beat and Charlie Parkeresque phrasing, the Jazz Police turn up their noses at those who don’t conform. Ironically, the band’s name was inspired by the very force that would have them arrested and sent back to be-bop school. During rehearsal for a Latin project, bass player Roberto Occhipinti (now with Jane Bunnett) warned Lazar: “he said, ‘We better play good tonight because the Montuno Police will be out checking to see if the clave is correct.” says Lazar.

“I thought that was a great name for a band. There’s a joke about the Jazz Police, just like the Politically Correct Police. But I don’t think about it. I just do what I want to do. And some Be-Boppers dig the band – they dig the energy.”

The Varsity Magazine

Rotate This by Ian Roth
November 1995

Touch

Anyone familiar with Toronto’s jazz scene has likely come into contact with Rick Lazar, whether at a concert he was attending or more likely one in which he was performing. Along with his band, Montuno Police, Lazar is also a member of Loreena McKennitt’s band; eclectic vibesters, Mecca; jazz-fusion band Manteca; and frequently plays with (and adds more than a little flavour to Toronto jazz guitarist, Brian Hughes.

Lazar is that little guy with the freaky goatee and mop of black hair that plays every “alternative” (read non-North American) percussion instrument ever invented. The orchestration of the rest of the band, including electric violin, organ, accordion, various woodwinds, and a funky bassist, matches and complements the symbiosis found in Lazar’s bag of percussion.

Touch is a marked improvement to Montuno Police’s 1990 self-titled debut cassette, and that was excellent. Playing in styles as wide ranging as Cuban, Arabic, and Brazilian jazz and funk, Touch starts with a mere touch, intensifies to a caress, and quickly climaxes to a full-fledged bite as it takes full control of its listeners.

All 73 minutes of this album are totally amazing, never even approaching the boring threshold the other side of which so many long-playing CD’s dwell.

For those familiar with Lazar’s work, the token rap song has become more than a little familiar, but the last song on Touch, “Yo Drummer,” though it still sounds somewhat like his other rap tunes, is much more polished and includes a couple brief ragamuffin-style interludes. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, Lazar shows his ability, and more importantly, his love for versatility as “Yo Drummer” puts the cherry on top of this monumental record.

Lazar, on this album, has shown that he and his Montuno Police indisputably make up the most creative and multifaceted jazz ensemble in Toronto.

Drums Etc

January-February 1999, Touch, Dark Light Music DL 24004

Rick’s name has popped up several times of late. The Toronto percussionist figures in some diverse and powerful ensembles. The current instance – actually a 1995 date – features regulars Collin Barrett and Lester Boyke on bass, Gordon Sheard on keys, and Hugh Marsh on violin. What distinguishes this from other virtuoso fusion /Latin outfits is that solos are kept in check, arrangements are squeaky tight, and there is virtually no clutter. Take, for example, “Sereia”, featuring a joyous Brazillian-tinged melody riding on a rock solid foundation.

The percussion is instantly modern and traditional. Rick seems to have a good grasp of when to stick to indigenous rhythms and when to break the rules. A good example of the latter is Hugh Marsh’s tune, “Toof Ache,” which reminds of latter day Miles Davis.

You are in for a surprise if you have only heard Mark Kelso with Holly Cole. He gets a business like drum sound and pulls off flawless, difficult fills to set up transitions. All his notes are in the right spots – no mean feat when working with complex arrangements. The net effect is ease, belying the rehearsals that must have gone into this – and other – Montuno Police releases.

The Globe and Mail, Arts Weekend

by Mark Miller, Saturday, February 17, 1996

Touch

On Touch, the Toronto sextet plays fusion jazz with a pronounced World Beat flavour. In the matter of comparisons, the coarse frontline combination of Hugh Marsh’s violin and John Johnson’s reeds is unique and the band’s noisy exuberance is a far cry from the synthesized slickness of its U.S. counterparts. If there’s a similar outfit around, it’s probably another Toronto band, Manteca, with which Lazar shares Johnson, keyboard player Gordon Sheard and, more generally, a honest night’s work ethic. Lazar’s rap tune, Yo Drummer, is a bit of an indulgence, but his various cross-cultural ventures, mapped out with Sheard’s assistance, are dynamic — none more so on this strong debut CD than Arabian Knights.

The Toronto Star, Entertainment

by Geoff Chapman, December 16, 1995

Touch

One of the liveliest Toronto Latin bands is led by percussionist Lazar, who is always ready to explore other modes, as this varied, 13-number program indicates.

There are major roles for reedman John Johnson, drummer Mark Kelso, violinist Hugh Marsh and a plethora of guests. The weird shuffling lines of “Toof Ache”, the worldbeaty “Arabian Knights” and pulsating deep fusion grooves are worth lots of play-time.

The Record, Kitchener, Ontario

by Robert Reid

Touch

Loreena McKennitt is an enormous talent. However, anyone who has followed her rise to international stardom cannot ignore the contributions of the Celtic performer’s gifted back-up musicians, who are accomplished recording artists in their own right. Recent months have seen three of them — violinist Hugh Marsh, guitarist Brian Hughs and percussionist Rick Lazar — release excellent albums. Touch is Lazar’s second album with the six-member Montuno Police, following the release of Bang in 1990. Joining Lazar are Collin Barrett on bass, Lester Boyke on percussion and John Johnson on woodwinds, in addition to Sheard, Kelso and Marsh. The 13 tracks, composed for the most part by various band members and arranged and produced by the band, also feature a number of musicians playing traditional instruments. Combining jazz improvisations and rap with the rhythmic influences of Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Arabic music, Touch offersa rich blend of percussion-driven worldbeat syncopations that are as infectious as they are funky. The motto for Montuno Police is “one heart, one mind, one groove.” The music couldn’t be described more accurately.