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New York Electric Piano - King Mystery (Buffalo Puppy, 2008)

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by Dean Christesen

The most interesting instrumentation in a contemporary jazz album of 2008 goes to New York Electric Piano. Originally a trio of Fender Rhodes, bass, and drums, the group's fourth record adds to it Leon Guenbaum's unique Samchillian keyboard, acoustic piano, saxophones and flutes, male and female vocals, and “soundscape." The same flame that heats the trio's first three releases engulfs King Mystery, which burns brighter with the added ensemble members.

Pianist Pat Daugherty, bassist Tim Givens, and drummer Aaron Comess form the core of NYEP. Saxophonist and flutist Till Behler is active on much of the record from the first few driving clicks of “10 to 11," in which memorable themes evolve through various time signature combinations.

The concept of complex, seemingly un-jazz-like forms continues with “The Black Hole, the Lasso and the Loophole," which develops into a hard swinging Rhodes solo.

Vocalist Deanna Kirk enters with Daugherty singing in octaves “Why Are We Here?" The lyrics are deep and introspective, the melody soft and arcing. The chilled out rhythm section maintains a cool composure, Behler blows very much like Kind of Blue Miles Davis, and Daugherty even nicely quotes Puccini in a bluesy solo.

“The Wheel" brings worldly flavors to the table with a heavily danceable Afro-Cuban. “King Mystery" imitates somewhat of a samba, integrating rumba accents, samba momentum, and dance-hall force. The music weighs you down instead of lifting you up: while the boosted bass helps the rest of the album to groove, it hinders the groove here. The two worldly tracks show the trio in action with only help from Behler, the former more organically with acoustic piano, the latter bringing the electric pianos back into action.

The group's first album with vocals, King Mystery contains questionable lyrics. The simplistic text of “Why Are We Here?" is excusable for the song's peace seeking, love-filled message. Other lyrics, however, are too bad to forgive, like those of “Hymn Including," in which two multi-tracked Daugherty's attempt to draw the album together by singing several of the song's titles. As for vocal quality, “Hymn" is reminiscent of Kings X and Queens of the Stone Age. Luckily, this moment is short lived.

NYEP's sound is a unique one. The many sounds from the various instruments responsibly fill the sonic canvass, rather than over doing it with too many layers. Jam banders and jazzers could both find something to love in King Mystery.

Track listing: 10 to 11; The Black Hole, the Lasso and the Loophole; Why Are We Here?; The Wheel; Temple Tantrum; Fireblossom; Too New To Know; King Mystery; Hymn Including; The Beauty of Ambiguity; Legend of Baj; I Shot the Deputy, Road to Newport.

Personnel: Pat Daugherty: pianos, vocals; Aaron Comess: drums; Tim Givens: bass; Till Behler: saxes, flutes; Leon Gruenbaum: Samchillian; Deanna Kirk: vocals; Mal Stein: soundscape.

Visit New York Electric Piano on the web.

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