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Jeff Coffin Mu'tet: Into the Air

Mark F. Turner By

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Emmy Award-winning saxophonist Jeff Coffin is a venerable road warrior who's probably more recognized for his work in the high profile bands of banjoist Bela Fleck and singer/songwriter Dave Matthews , playing to stadiums of 30,000 screaming fans. But he's also at home performing in venues that hold 300 appreciative enthusiasts with his Mu'tet—a longtime ensemble that espouses Coffin's philosophy that music must change and mutate in order to evolve. Into the Air continues Coffin's evolution of progressive music .

Whether providing horn arrangements that sing a soulful lament in "A Half Sleep" or slipping down seedy back alleyways in the stealthy "U Don't Say," the release exudes a carefree mantra, its tracks spiced with the varied ingredients of old-school funk, blues, gospel, and other music elements, as well as earnest jazz musicianship.

The release profits from taut arrangements and tunes that have been chiseled on the road by a cast that includes veterans such as drummer Jeff Sipe and artful Benin-born jazz star guitarist Lionel Loueke on two tracks. The surprise, though, is found in the sinewy electric bass lines from Felix Pastorius (son of the great Jaco Pastorius), whose dexterous playing stands firmly on its own in regards to his esteemed namesake. His riff on "Lucky 13" is killer.

The Mu'tet delivers more than just jam band riffs covering the sounds of trumpeter Miles Davis or keyboardist Herbie Hancock's 80s' electric days in "8 Bit Goggles," as Coffin spaces out on electro-saxophone, or the equally far out "Slow Glass," as the horns harmonize in a languid stew. Then there's "Lucky 13" and "Loueke," which make good use of the guitarist's cunning chops and unique African voicings. Overall, there's a certain retro Harlem/soul-funk vibe to many of the tracks, with the exception of "Beautiful Flower," an introspective piece with a spiritual leaning that is just as memorable as its upbeat predecessors. It's a fitting conclusion to a solid release.

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