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Jeff Coffin has held down jobs with two of the highest-profile bands in contemporary American music, with Béla Fleck = 6 733 and The Flecktones from 1997 to 2010, and with the Dave Matthews Band since 2009. High profile bands have busy schedules, but the saxophonist has also found the time to run his Mu'tet since 2001. Into The Air is the band's sixth album: a funky, goodtime collection whose ready accessibility and danceable grooves sound so easy that they obscure the talent of the band's members.
The Mu'tet's members are drawn from an array of top ensembles. Keyboardist Kofi Burbridge comes from the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Felix Pastorius is a member of the Yellowjackets, trumpeter Bill Fanning has played with the Artie Shaw Band and the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra, and percussionist Jeff Sipe has a long association with Aquarium Rescue Unit. The rhythm section pairing of Pastorius and Sipe is in top form, Pastorius' growling, punchy, electric bass and Sipes' mastery of the groove giving absolute confidence to the front-line players.
The aptly-named "A Half Sleep" opens the album in a dreamy, early-hour, wakeup kind of way. Coffin, Fanning and Sipe are suitably laidback; Pastorius and Burbridge are a little more energetic, and soon entice Coffin into a frenetic solo before "laidback" once again becomes the order of the day. At six minutes in length it almost outstays its welcome, but eventually gives way to the silky funk of "U Don't Say" and an array of further delights. "Backin' Up" benefits from an impossibly catchy horn figure, "Ride (Redux)" has a slightly crazy Funkadelic vibe, the fluid "Low Spark" is built around a North African theme within which solos from Coffin's tenor sax and Fanning's trumpet have a much more straight-ahead jazz feel. Things reach their most feverish on "8 Bit Goggles." Each member of the Mu'tet loosens up and lets go on this number, and then "Slow Glass" brings the pace back down as it reprises the mood of "A Half Sleep" with added electronic effects.
Guitarist Lionel Loueke joins the band for two tunes: "Lucky 13" and the aptly-named "Loueke" both reflecting Coffin's love of African music and the Beninese guitarist's graceful swing. Loueke's seemingly spontaneous vocalizations heighten the optimism and joy of the music.
The album closes with another slow number, but this time it's characterized by romantic beauty. "Beautiful Flower" features Burbridge at his best, along with some of Coffin's most affecting playing, this time on soprano sax. It may not be typical of the rest of Into The Air, but it's a lovely way to end this engaging collection.
A Half Sleep; U Don't Say; Lucky 13; Backin' Up; 8 Bit Goggles; Slow Glass; Loueke; Low Spark; Ride (Redux); Beautiful Flower.
Jeff Coffin: saxophones, electro-saxophone; Bill Fanning: trumpet, space trumpet; Kofi Burbridge: piano, keyboards, flute; Felix Pastorius: electric bass; Jeff Sipe: drums, percussion; Lionel Loueke: electric guitar, vocalization (3, 7); Caleb Mitchell: percussion (6); Gavin Knight: shaker (3).