CD REVIEW: Patricia Julien Project - Still Light At Night
By Dan Cohen - 11/20/2013 - 06:06 PM EST
Artist: BAND: Patricia Julien Project
Album: Still Light At Night
Sounds Like: Charlie Hunter, Thelonious Monk
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Sinister Nostalgia, Ten Suggestions, Proximity, Lovely Would Be Nice,
I donít know if somethingís in the water or what, but Iíve received some really fine jazz albums in the last month or so. From Montreal's Bean trio to LA's Helix Collective (whose music is not exactly jazz, but acoustic and funky, a full band with english horn and flute front and center), thereís a wealth of talent taking jazz and other instrumental genres in new and unexpected and compelling directions.
A prime example of this is the Patricia Julien Project, a Vermont-based quartet that is hard to categorize beyond the rather general rubric of jazz, because they dip into so many different stylesófusion, funk, latin, bop, balladóbut manage all with aplomb and a great deal of musical and compositional acuity. Which is to say, they play the hell out of their tunes, and their tunes are good.
Julien is a nimble, gorgeously musical flutist. Iíve always had a problem with jazz flute. Call me shallow. It can seem somewhat one-dimensional, without the bite and aggression of a sax or trumpet. And yet Pat Julien has come up with a neat trick to sidestep this issueóshe often doubles the melody line with guitarist (and husband? brother? cousin? no relation? press pack was mysteriously silent on the subject) Alec Julien, whose signature tone is a grungy, biting, overdriven sound, not 'jazzy' at all in the traditional Wes Montgomery sense. But it works well with the flute, and in fact helps make Julien's flute sound at times like the devilís own spawn. The combination takes the edge off the harsh guitar sound and gives Patís playing a body and menace you donít often associate with flute. Flute with attitude. Donít-f***-with-me flute. About time!
Another thing I like about this album are the song titles. Song titles are notoriously tricky in jazz. Evocative titles like Ruby, My Dear and Brilliant Corners (Thelonious Monk remains the acknowledged master of song-naming) are hard to come by and often sound cutesy or forced. But names like Sinister Nostalgia, Ten Suggestions, Proximity, Zip Zip and Lovely Would Be Nice have the same sort of mysterious, insouciant charm. And most importantly- the tunes deliver, making Still Light at Night one of the best jazz albums of recent years.
First cut Sinister Nostalgia sets the tone with a fly-ass funky drum intro, but on brushes, as if to say, 'Yeah, I can rock out, but thereís more to us. Check it out.' Bass slides in unassumingly, and guitar adds odd atmosphere. Then the aforementioned flute/guitar combo give us a melody at once tuneful and yet witholding, with lots of space around it. (I get it! Tuneful yet witholding, not all there: the very definition of nostalgia! It is somewhat sinister, isn't it?) Then Julien launches into what seems like a solo, all whole notes, with a churning guitar underneath. It appears that most of it is composed, but they make fine use here, as they do throughout the album, of the contrast between Julienís singing yet full bodied tone and the stylings of guitarist Alec Julien, who sometimes seems like he walked into the session by accident from an Iron Maiden rehearsal across the hall, so muscular and rocking is his guitar sound, but his chops and his tasty backup of Julienís playing mark him as a player to watch, equal parts Charlie Hunter and Charlie Manson.
The rest of the ensemble is equally impressive. Caleb Bronzí drumming is understated but firm and always in the pocket, while Jeremy Harlos on bass provides solid support with occasional interesting flights of fancy. His solo on Zee, a mysterious, sort of space-latin number, is a bit shy, the guy at the party who knows no one and doesnít dance, yearning upward but then lingering in the lower reaches of its register, where few bass solos dare to tread-- and more should. In Slo Gin Fizz, a bluesy, sort of Ďoutí ballad, he provides a more traditional solo, where he also acquits himself admirably. In Proximity, a jazzy waltz, Julien has a deferential, downward lilting melody, and after a bass solo, a lovely, exploratory and questing melodic line. Then there's Mr. Julien, who comes in with a solo as if he just woke up, it seems to take him a few moments to rub the sleep out of his eyes, emerge from his dream and get with the changes, but itís one that builds nicely as he stretches and explores the landscape. If jazz is a music that creates a soundtrack to how you think, weíre clearly dealing with a band thatís got a lot on itís mind.
Album concludes with Zip Zip, a brusque, hip, two minute Monk-esque statement of bop, followed by the ballad Lovely Would Be Nice, Bill Evans-y and indeed lovely, whose sweetly ironic title hides an uabashedly pretty tune. Kinda sums up the Patricia Julien Project-- not afraid to be pretty, but watch out. These cats have claws.
Joe Capps is the ostensible producer (recorded, mixed and mastered by) and heís created a crisp, clear, well-balanced sonic landscape with both depth and presence. If this is the future of jazz, weíre in good hands. Sign me up! Only problem: she forgot to put her website on the album cover. In this day and age, that's heresy. Or suicide. Or perhaps just sinister nostalgia.
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