The result of a long-awaited musical and personal reunion, the self-titled E.M.P. Project
brings together university friends William Ellis (drums), Joseph Patrick Moore (bass), and Shawn Perkinson (guitar) for a two day session of stirring and integrated playing. After graduating from the University of Tennessee ten years ago, each member of the trio has pursued his own successful, independent recording careerbut although they remained in close contact, they were unable to perform together for over a decade. Up until now. This album’s cohesiveness provides examples of both the professional jazz musicians' ability to follow one another instinctually and the overriding endurance of close friendship.
Undertaken with a fully collaborative ethos, all material on the album was composed by the trio, each member contributing an equal number of tunes (with one extra from Moore). Significantly, this collaborative spirit echoes throughout the album, the players integrating their personal styles in order to strike a well conceived balance which remains remarkably consistent despite the range of compositions.
Though the group is anchored in the classic guitar trio format, it is a distinct pleasure to hear Perkinson break away from the traditional jazz guitar sound by introducing varied tonal voices. On tracks like “Blues Blown Bye” and “Quickly and Quietly,” Perkinson takes advantage of the electric guitar’s capacity to alter its tonal color, at times producing ethereal effects more often encountered within the ambient and electronica genres. In fact, at rare junctures Perkinson releases mercurial whale song-like emissions reminiscent of such ambient groups as MAIN and LaBradford. This approach proves particularly effective on the track “What?”, composed by Moore, which is buoyed by Moore’s distinctive bass work and Ellis’s floating rhythms and atmospheric cymbals. This standout piece deserves specific attention.
Perkinson is equally comfortable in the more traditional settings of “Warrior” and the serene ballad “Elise,” though admittedly these pieces fail to distinguish themselves as much as “Blues Blown Bye” and “What?”. Frankly speaking, all three musicians, though clearly at home in a “classic” jazz environment, seem to establish more effective and personally expressive dimensions the further afield they travel.
This said, the album remains intriguing throughout, and though certain tracks suffer a lack of distinguishable character, merging into the faceless crowd of modern day jazz, those other tracks which really spread out and take risks show not only the trio’s talent, but its tantalizing willingness to combine classic jazz structures and improvisational techniques with the relatively more recent textural explorations of ambient, electronic, and alterna-rock styles.
It will be very interesting to see what E.M.P. produces next, and it is this listener’s hope that the trio will continue to explore the multiple aspects of musical expression touched on in this first release. It would be most intriguing to hear all three composer/instrumentalists fully confront the nascent challenge exposed by this album, namely a synthesis of jazz’s individualistic, line-oriented improvisation with the more harmonically open, textural explorations of electronic and ambient genres.
Personnel: William Ellis: Drums;
Joseph Patrick Moore: Acoustic, Electronic & Fretless Bass;
Shawn Perkinson: Electric & Acoustic Guitar.