A distant relative of Jimmy Haslip
's first record as a leader, Arc
(GRP, 1993), Arc Trio
is a breath of fresh air. The core trio of Haslip, Scott Kinsey
, and Gergo Borlai
intelligently reimagine the fusion genre. While embracing essential elements of fusion past, they bring an enlightened vision to the epicenter as well as a broad spectrum of well-rooted branches. Each song feeds seamlessly into the next in a presentation that is intended to be captured in its entirety. The ten-song expedition is a rebirth of fusion experimentation and discovery.
As always, Haslip is grippingly melodic. He is powerful, soft, energized, laid back, and much more. Making the changes in a subtle unobtrusive fashion or with a strong directional pull, whichever manner best suits the song and the interplay with his bandmates. Kinsey, on various keyboards throughout the collaboration, displays his own diverse skillset and, as a Joe Zawinul
protégé, deftly examines that edge as well. Borlai quickly brings credence to the Vinnie Colaiuta
comparisons. He perhaps also borrows a page from the book of Zawinul. His dynamics behind the drum kit fit the Zawinul Weather Report
mentality of "we never solo, we always solo." It didn't take long for the depth and scope of this project to manifest and facilitate expansion. Colaiuta comes on board for a couple of tracks; so does Gary Novak
. Judd Miller
is on one tune, and playing three different instruments, saxophonist Steve Tavaglione
contributes to four songs.
The record begins with the Kinsey-written "Owosso." Amongst the many keyboard treatments on this song, at one point Kinsey seems to channel his inner Dave Samuels
. A great table setter, "Owosso" gives a taste of many elements to be further explored as the journey continues, including the Haslip/Borlai rhythm section deftly mixing in West African, Latin, and world beats with traditional jazz and fusion knocks. A trippy keyboard hit is an immediate mood enhancer as Haslip's trip to "West Orange" is lit up with Tavaglione's soprano sax shimmering like the reflection off a windowpane on a sunny day. It's a kaleidoscope of colorful images, with Haslip's flicker of funk and Borlai's walk on the Gadd side amongst the illuminations. The globe seems to orbit slowly as they buzz through many trails of vivid perceptualized passages.
One of Haslip's favorite songwriters, Vince Mendoza
, brings "Conchita" to the party. As is his forte, the song is deliciously melodic. It maintains a heightened melodicism while being filtered with vast opportunities for the trio to expand and flourish instrumentally. A song written in memory of Haslip's mother could be the sentimental ballad of the record. Instead, "Viera" is a nearly seven- minute salsa infused shaker that is highlighted by a terrific (even by his standards) drum solo by Colaiuta that gloriously gathers components and momentum for the duration. Colaiuta's rapid chordal patterns and African tinged layering is enhanced by Tavaglione's sweet flute renderings. Kinsey and Haslip engage in multi-layered sophisticated comping. Call it what you want, it fuels the fireplace in which Colauita burns. Kinsey's "Joan Miro" takes us to the halfway mark of a record that now feels well connected, like a suite. Haslip is nothing short of tenacious on "Joan Miro." The extraordinary rhythm section lock provides Kinsey with a foundation to richly stretch, express, and expand.
The trio glides into the second half of the record with Haslip's "Cedars." Perhaps the most adventurous undertaking features Haslip on a brisk walk in which he engages with friends, neighbors and passersby in conversation. Judd Miller has something to say on his EVI (electronic valve instrument). Along the way there is dialogue with Kinsey, Tavaglione, and Borlai. The longest tune on the record has Haslip enjoying his stroll, and in no rush, to get to the end of the road. He solos brightly upon his arrival, on a masterfully written and conceived piece of music. A second entry by Mendoza, entitled "Sprite," is no soft drink. Conversely, it does bubble with excitement when Colaiuta reemerges and leads a collective gait that maintains melodic boundaries but encourages improvisation within its framework.
A tune that was originally on Haslip's record Nightfall
(VIE, 2010), "Palo Alto" is given a new coat of paint. Nightfall
was an album conceived by Haslip and Joe Vannelli. Gary Novak makes his first appearance on the record here on "Palo Alto" revisited.
The final two songs are co-written by Haslip and Kinsey. The tune entitled "I'm Hip" evokes sounds of the 1970's. Modern edges are tastefully blended into a cocktail that has the trio joyously riding a groove. It is clearly more about the journey than the destination, as they romp gloriously in the broad spectrum of levels three and four, in no rush to blast off into level five. Haslip's ever strong and confident pocket again allows Borlai the freedom to be both patient and relentless.
The odyssey finishes, but does not come to an end, with "Goan Wanderer." The word trippy appeared earlier in this review, but if the shoe fits. This is a complex, interesting, and mood-altering voyage. It's a strong finish in that it acutely displays multifaceted levels of depth. This is a trio that listens to each other intently and empowers its directional compass with innovative responses. Their egos were checked at the door. When Kinsey wasn't blowing down doors (and there are a few being repaired as we speak), he immediately became an integral and supportive member of the rhythm section.
There are several outstanding fusion records that have been recorded in the past few years. However, few, if any, grab ahold of the genre then traverse new territory with such aplomb. Augmenting the trio during their studio process is a product of diligent focus. While embracing the sounds, emotions, and dialogue along the way, a great record should leave you in a different place at its conclusion. The word epic is perhaps a bit over the top, however this hybrid of modern, vintage, and cerebral music connected with diverse intellectual acuity is a bold comment on the current state of and the fervent growth of twenty-first century fusion.
Owosso; West Orange; Conchita; Viera; Joan Miró; Cedars; Sprite; Palo Alto; I'm Hip; Goan Wanderer.