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BWW Review: ZEN BROTHER is a Winning Combo at The West Bank Cafe

Zen Brother delivers great jazz.

BWW Review: ZEN BROTHER is a Winning Combo at The West Bank Cafe

I'm starting to feel quite at home at The West Bank Cafe, thanks to their Dinner Music series. It doesn't hurt that my apartment and The West Bank are in the same block. The addition of music to the upstairs dining room has made The West Bank Cafe feel like a cozy, peaceful retreat from the bustling world just outside on 42nd St. The artists who play during dinner hours Wednesday through Sunday are in no way background music. They are first-tier musicians who you would normally have to pay a steep cover charge to hear.

I was lucky enough to hear a sample of that tonight when I caught a set by the jazz trio, Zen Brother. As much as I love singers, it was a refreshing change of pace to enjoy such fine music, freed from the need to concentrate on any kind of text, just pure music.

It's hard to pinpoint the proper musical label for Zen Brother. The closest I can come would be to call their style '"jazz fusion." Although what the jazz is being fused with changes from piece to piece. The set I heard contained influences from salsa, funk, R & B, swing, and New Age. And despite their moniker, zen is not really accurate. They are exciting and lively and full of energy. All three men, John Smatla on piano, Gary Foote on bass, and Tony Lewis on drums are accomplished jazzmen, who take their solo moments to truly shine. Smatla plays both piano and keyboards, often simultaneously. He's as exciting to watch as he is to hear.

It was a uniformly excellent set, but I would single out two moments that I liked best. They did a funk arrangement of Nat King Cole's hit "Nature Boy" which yielded some very fruitful variations. I was also fond of their R & B take on Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway's " Feel Like Making Love." This has always been a song that I love, and hearing Zen Brother put its wonderfully creative spin on it made me see it in a fresh light. That's what an artist can do.

Kudos to Zen Brother for such an enjoyable evening, and repeated thanks to The West Bank Cafe for creating such an enticing atmosphere to showcase these fantastic performers.

For more information on Zen Brother check out @TheSmat at Twitter,, and For dinner reservations and more excellent acts at the West Bank Cafe, visit

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