Bassist J.A. Granelli's Mr. Lucky may be a totally revamped lineup from the group that released Gigantic
(Love Slave, 2004), but its philosophy remains the same. Homing
lives in a place somewhere between Ry Cooder's loose, pre-Buena Vista Social Club
work and Bill Frisell's Good Dog, Happy Man
, a collection of roots-oriented material that's about groove and a collective sound more than any one person's contribution. Still, while the album has nothing to do with overt virtuosity, its emotional honesty and occasional unexpected musical tangents wouldn't be possible without accomplished and broad-minded players.
Departed slide guitarist David Tronzo has been replaced by guitarist Brad Shepik and, on half the album, steel guitarist Gerald Menke. So there are even greater textural opportunities, augmented by Nate Shaw's organ and Fender Rhodes. Granelli and drummer Mike Sarinand the entire group, for that matternever overplay, relying more on space to create its slightly surreal atmosphere. While strong melodies abound, Mr. Lucky retains the modernistic edge that has always set it apart from straightforward roots rockers.
Homing feels like a logical progression for Granelli and this new incarnation of Mr. Lucky, but they also explore some new directions. The blues of "Long Hair, whose second-line rhythm clearly references New Orleans legend Professor Longhair, is skewed by adding an extra beat or two here and there to keep it on the verge of unpredictability.
While Shepik's sometimes grungy tone is responsible for some of the group's bite, Homing is Mr. Lucky's most relaxed outing to date. Songs like the gentle "Sum Song (Gil) and countrified ballad "My True Love define the ambience. Even the more up-tempo "The Row Boat Stomp (Lola) and dynamic build of both "Fortunate Son and the verging-on-abandon "Hope for Junior amble along in a similarly relaxed fashion, lending credence to the album's subtitle: "A Feeling in Nine Parts.
It may not be jazz by any conventional definition, but it's a certainty that Granelli and Mr. Lucky don't particularly care. Like Frisell, improvisation is a key element of what they do. But in a context that's as distanced from the jazz mainstream as the nu jazz movement of Scandinavia, Homing is an album that's sure to reward those who view it as part of a larger continuum, where fusing elements from disparate sources is not only allowed but encouraged.
Personnel: J.A. Granelli: bass (2,3,5,6,8,9), piccolo bass (1,4,7); Brad Shepik: guitar; Nate Shaw: B3
organ, Fender Rhodes (6,9); Mike Sarin: drums; Gerald Menke: steel guitar (2,3,4,8).