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Human Element: You Are In You

Mike Jacobs By

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Seeking to expand upon the stylistic legacy of Joe Zawinul...

Only a group of pretty heavily respected musicians could pull off a mission statement like that. Yet that's pretty much what keyboardist Scott Kinsey, bassist Matthew Garrison, drummer Gary Novak, and percussionist / vocalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan declared when they formed Human Element.

But let's face it, these guys have some very impressive papers. In addition to Tuncboyaciyan and Garrison being members of a 90's edition of the Zawinul Syndicate (and Kinsey being Zawinul's friend and protege), the collective highlights of their "has-played-or-recorded-with list" reads something like: Tribal Tech, John Scofield, Herbie Hancock, Allan Holdsworth, Chick Corea, Steve Coleman, Marc Johnson, John McLaughlin, Michael Landau, and more—but you get the picture.

Where the group's eponymous debut (Human Element Abstract Logix 2011) stayed much closer to the foundations laid by their spirit guide, their sophomore effort, You Are In You, sees the group using those foundations as more of a launching pad from which they achieve a much higher orbit.

While a few cuts could arguably be viewed as further extensions of the Zawinul playbook (see the hypnotic title track and the mantric world groove of "Take the Papers"), the ensuing years since their debut album seem to have gone a long way to heighten both the originality of the group's presentation and their adventurousness. Take the cyclonic "Atmosphere 2," a track one might be forgiven for thinking is the product of hours of studio manipulation and layering but, as the liner notes reveal, turns out to be live performance recorded at the Blue Note Tokyo. Its operative ethos may certainly be a direct descendant of Weather Report's, but its content clearly signals we're not in Joe Z's Kansas anymore.

The slacker-grooved "Tweakerson" and the heartfelt lament of "February 16th" also underscore the wider aperture on You Are In You, as do the notably rare piano excursions by Kinsey and candid conversational clips added to the mix. Further upping the ante, (and unlike anything previously presented), are the quirky yet strangely endearing croon of "Pintous," and the 15-minute odyssey "Cold Mountain." The latter, with epic twists and turns to rival the most serious of prog manifestos, may in fact be worth the price of admission alone. You Are In You somehow pulls all this together in such a coherent way, that it thoroughly expands the stylistic territory of the band without abandoning the original credo or muddling its identity.

The Zawinul muse notwithstanding, one defining attribute that sets Human Element apart is that it is very much a collective. While Kinsey undeniably leaves his talented fingerprints on nearly every aspect of this record, he doesn't palpably take the role of leader, and all involved emerge and shine in turn. Indeed, tracks like the fiery "It's Gonna Be Happen," and the aforementioned "Cold Mountain" and "Atmosphere 2" all show why each of these musicians has earned the designation "secret weapon" at some point in their careers.

But in a quartet entirely made up of "secret weapons," You Are In You highlights why Tuncboyaciyan may indeed be the most vital to the collective's identity. His percussion abilities are essential but—not unlike Dapp Theory's integration of spoken word into their brand of (post-everything) jazz—Tuncboyaciyan's vocal presence propels Human Element out of the fray and into their own unique realm. Unlike his capable but ancillary role in Zawinul's Syndicate, a good many of these tunes are built around and upon Tuncboyaciyan's "avant-folk" sensibilities (such as the rousing "Nice To Meet You"), creating templates quite different from his former employer's. This, along with the sheer personality his voice carries into its many creative roles on this record, infuses the proceedings with an inseparable character and rare intimacy that truly validate the band's name.

If there were previously any doubts as to Human Element's ability to both honor a daunting legacy AND have a valid, independent voice of its own, You Are In You decidedly puts them to rest.

Track Listing: Prelude; It's Gonna Be Happen; Nice To Meet You; Tweakerson; February 16th; Take The Papers; Atmosphere 2; Pintous; Cold Mountain.

Personnel: Gary Novak: drums; Matthew Garrison: bass; Arto Tuncboyaciyan: percussion, vocals; Scott Kinsey: Synthesizers, piano; Artyom Manukyan: cello on Cold Mountain.

Title: You Are In You | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced

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