New York Electric Piano started its life as a trio, staying that way for its first three albums. The fourth recording, King Mystery
(Buffalo Puppy, 2008), found the band expanding to a septet. Following a minor reshuffle, Keys To The City Volumes 1 & 2
sees further expansion, to an octet with guests, and to a two-CD set. Keyboardist, vocalist and composer Pat Daugherty
is still at the helm of a group which is still creating a fascinating sound.
A double-disc release might be considered rather foolhardy in such straightened economic times, but there was clearly plenty of new material for the band to draw on. The first disc is filled with songs, making full use of the band's vocalists, while the second is an all-instrumental set. Across both discs, the band is tight and swinging, with the rhythm section of drummer Aaron Comess and bassist Tim Givens
consistently on the money, and giving the others a chance to loosen up and groove. The band also boasts the samchilliana MIDI keyboard, developed by Leon Gruenbaum, which adds its own floaty, space-age color to the music.
The numbers on the second disc are full of twists, turns and unexpected changes of mood and pace. "Instrumental Health" is a straight-ahead, four-to-the-bar rocker, with plenty of scope for head-banging, and a honky riff from tenor saxophonist Erik Lawrence
. It's followed by "Tears of a Skyscraper," a lovely, flowing, ballad which is, itself, followed by "Area 6 7 8," a tune that slides readily from funk and prog to a spot of free jazz, and back again.
While Volume 2 is playful and fun, it's the first CD, where the band is joined by vocalists Deanna Kirk and Ava Farber, that contains Keys To The City
's most inventive and intriguing music. Kirk and Farber's vocals are slinky, sexy, funky and smooth by turns. Daugherty offers a different vocal style: often rapping rather than singing, he provides an effective contrast to Kirk and Farber and brings a touch of irony to his delivery, his vocal on "NYEP" being particularly fine. "Respect," indeed.
"Very Nice" melds quirky lyrics with an '80s R&B vibe, while "Temple Dog" is a slinky shuffle: a tale of the singer's wish for the titular canine which will "howl like a velvet fog." The old-school vibe continues with "Scrapple for the Apple," with its nod to the '70s soul of bands like Sly and the Family Stone. Stephen Perkins, from Jane's Addiction, joins vocalist Jennifer Conley and flautist (and ex-NYEP member) Till Behler on "In This Land." This is one of the most ambitious songs on Keys To The City Volumes 1 & 2
: broad in its lyrical and instrumental scope, it's almost a mini-drama. In fact, New York Electric Piano is a band that seems intent on extending its scope, and on expanding its vision; a band that has the talent to match its ambitions.