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The term "trail magic" is a well-known concept among hikers and other nature enthusiasts. It refers to the time-honored tradition of travelers leaving nice things (usually helpful objects or notes) along the road for others to find someday. The electric tone of this recording may evoke highways and festival stages more than the wilds of nature, but the duo behind Trail Magic show that same generosity to each other and their listeners nonetheless. Their self-titled debut is a rollicking helping of funk-and-country fusion that's never less than vigorous. They're a little Jeff Beck and a little Dixie Dregs with an occasional smattering of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters.
The two leads set an appealing rustic flavor that's part upbeat rock and part quaint folk. Joel Newton alternates fast jazzy flights on the guitar with simple gentle-toned rhythm beds to give others room do the same; Christian Howes' dynamic violin goes full-throttle heavy in spots and keeps the yee-haw factor tastefully restrained in others. Here they're backed with an excellent pair of collaborators who add irresistibly frisky drumming and a dizzying range of electric keys. The pieces range across a refreshingly eclectic span of moods and everyone gets plenty of space to shine.
The whole quartet's interplay is as bright and smart as the leaders' compositions (the album is a jointly written affair, apart from an amped-up take on Paganini's "Caprice #24," and their voices mesh into a nicely coherent whole). Some are simple frameworks for coasting and trading fun solos, though the more successful moments lie in surprising juxtapositionsthe jazzy swing-infused country waltz that opens the disc, for instance, or the winding Allman-Brothers-Band-meets-James-Brown bounce of "Logjam." Catchy or peaceful, the tone is always a positive one throughoutin keeping with the Trail Magic name, this is a vibrant session all about the joy of serendipity and discovery.
Track Listing: Catalina; Gone Tubin; Song for Tony; Caprice #24; Out of the Blue; Logjam; Ceremony; Trane's Maiden; Bobby's Bad; Trail Magic; Casseopeia.
Personnel: Christian Howes: violin; Joel Newton: guitar; Walter Fischbacher: keyboards; Aviv Cohen: drums.
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