Saxophonist Jeff Coffin is capable of so much. But I've wondered why he doesn't stick more to the Trane-inspired post bop, which he does so well. I guess you gotta make a living these days and if having a sound that borders on the cheesiness of Michael Brecker, Ed Calle, and the late Bob Berg is the price you pay, well, I guess I'm OK with that for the following reasons. The Nashville-based musician makes up for it in his musical diversity. Coffin plays saxophones, clarinet, flute, and lord knows what else. And on his few CDs as a leader, he consistently manages to surprise me with abounding technique and virtuosity, as well as a great deal of artistic integrity.
You'll get a taste of this virtuosity here and there when he goes nuts on a groove with Bela Fleck (the man who rightly put Coffin in the limelight as a member of Fleck's touring band, the Flecktones), or perhaps when he plays two saxophones at once in tribute to one of his evident heroes, the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Coffin can play inside, outside, and all around. But when he wants to get a groove goin,' he gets it on. Hardcore.
On his third and latest Compass Records release, Bloom, Coffin is accompanied by an all-star group of players who together make up the Mu'tet, which was also featured on the last release, Go-Round. The core of Coffin's superband is pianist/Hammond B3 organist Tyler Wood, guitarist Pat Bergeron, and drummer Jeff Sipe. The Mu'tet, as its original name suggests is a group that defies any particular label. "What do we call it? We call it music," says Coffin's website.
On Bloom (which features stunning floral photography in the liner notes), Coffin and the Mu'tet dabble in everything from N'awlinz second-line street marches ("Move Your Rug... Procession," "Better Do Your Thing") to distorted tenor sax noodling ("My Dog Chunks") to tenor pyrotechnics from the low end of the horn to the far reaches of the stratasphere for his solo break on "Wobble." The band even touches on eerie country, drum-n-bass funk, and soothing folky lyricism on "Circle of Wills," "Hatim," and "As Light Through Leaves," respectively.
And despite the labels that critics will surely apply to this record, what is most evident to these ears is that through it all, Coffin loves to play music that makes you feel good. It can be blues, gospel, soul, Latin, whatever! Coffin gets down with mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, tabla supplied by Fleck's percussionist Futureman, an electric bass from the original funk master Victor Wooten, and numerous samples from the prolific DJ Logic (now seemingly a fixture on the jazz/jam band scene).
With Bloom Coffin and the Mu'tet successfully take the listener on a sonic journey through such an abundance of styles, colors, and textures that any attempt to box Coffin or the Mu'tet into one singular style would be an exercise in futility. Check out this record. You'll be glad you did.
Personnel: Jeff Coffin (saxes, flute), Victor Wooten (electric bass), Jeff Sipe (drums), Pat Bergeson (guitar), Bela Fleck
(banjo), DJ Logic (turntables), Chris Thile (mandolin), Futureman (percussion), Kirk Whalum (soprano
sax), Derek Philip Jones (acoustic bass), Tyler Wood (piano, B3organ), Johnny Neel (B3 organ, vocals),
The Big Chief Giampetro Brass Band, The W. O. Smith Community Music School Choir.