The title of bassist Shawn Lovato's debut record, Cycles of Animation, is wholly appropriate, as Lovato's compositions are filled with incessant motion. With a good deal of rhythmic dynamism and a fluid, loosely-structured sound, the album is a convincing statement from Lovato and a sign of even better things to come.
Lovato has a fine group of colleagues, including guitarist Brad Shepik, altoist Loren Stillman, pianist Santiago Leibson and drummer Chris Carroll, so he has all the resources he needs to showcase his eight original pieces. One can hear some of the multifaceted influences that have shaped Lovato's early years as a musician in the New York scene, as traces of rock and funk color the churning rhythms of tracks like the opener, "Loose Noodle," with Shepik's angular solo a particular highlight, or "Static Phases Illuminated," where a bluesy sensibility prevails and Shepik shares the spotlight with Stillman, whose yearning, soulful presence is critical here and elsewhere on the record. But the musicians' jazz bona fides are also in evidence, as the hard-swinging "Brain Drain" amply reveals. While Lovato is generally content to refrain from any exhibitions of overt virtuosity, his agile solo on the upbeat, odd-meter "7th Street Jig" propels the rest of the band into its most engaging interplay on the disc.
Although the rhythmic energy of the music is perhaps its most obvious attribute, it's not only the infectious grooves that fuel the animation in Lovato's approach, as even the softer-edged tracks possess a sense of motive and direction that embody a spirit of open-ended discovery. The three-song suite, "Animated Cycle," interspersed throughout the album, is a case in point, as Stillman and Shepik lay out on these tracks to enable Lovato, Carroll and Leibson a chance to explore understated currents more pensively, in ways that rely more on intrigue and indirection rather than steady propulsion. And the album's closer, "Unplugged Slug," the lengthiest cut at over twelve minutes, is the perfect combination of unhurried pulse and open space.
With a distinctive compositional approach and a knack for finding the right partners to bring it to life, Lovato's already on his way to making a name for himself, and his future endeavors should be worth following closely.
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