Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (who we’ve interviewed before) has made some of the best acoustic jazz records of the 21st Century. The four albums by his long-running quintet featuring tenor saxophonist JD Allen, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Gerald Cleaver—November, Men of Honor, The Talented Mr. Pelt, and Soul (reviewed here last year)—varied from impressive to breathtaking. But at the end of 2012, after touring in support of Soul, he disbanded the group, and on his new album, Water and Earth, he’s gone in an entirely different direction.
On Water and Earth, the band includes tenor and soprano saxophonist Roxy Coss; keyboardists David Bryant (on Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, organ, and piano) and Frank LoCrasto (on Fender Rhodes and Prophet synth); bassist Burniss Earl Travis; drummer Dana Hawkins; percussionist Jeffery Haynes; and three female vocalists: Ra-Re Valverde, Angela Roberts, and Fabiana Masili.
The album begins with a liquid bed of electric piano slowly filling up the room, as Pelt’s trumpet conjures a gently meditative mood that will dominate the entire disc. The title of this relatively short piece, “Reimagine the World,” seems almost like a challenge or a declaration, since Pelt is indeed reimagining his own musical world here. Behind him, the female vocalists offer a wordless chant reminiscent of Brasil 66 or similar groups. The second track, “Mystique,” is freer and more uptempo, with the horns and keyboards spilling out expansive solos atop an aggressively shuffling beat. Coss’s soprano saxophone playing, sharp yet melodic, recalls Wayne Shorter‘s work with Weather Report. The third track, “In Dreams,” is driven by a hard, hip-hop edged beat that sounds like something DJ Krush would put together; Pelt’s horn sound is softer than usual, slightly fuzzy as though he’s humming into the mouthpiece.
In the latter half of the album, things go even farther afield. On “Stay,” he employs a strange electronic effect on his trumpet that makes it sound like it’s coming through an old pay phone, or like the tape is decaying as he plays; meanwhile, vocalist Ra-Re Valverde croons an invitation to the listener. On the album’s last two tracks, “Prior Convictions” and “Butterfly Dreams,” he employs a wah-wah; not to the degree Miles Davis did in the mid ’70s, but nonetheless a surprise coming from a player who’s spent four albums ringing modern changes on a decidedly ’60s-indebted post-bop style. This isn’t the first time Jeremy Pelt has explored electric keyboards; his 2007 album Shock Value: Live at Smoke was recorded with the band WiRED, which also included LoCrasto and Hawkins. It would be very interesting to see this become as hard-working a unit as the Jeremy Pelt Quintet was, though if it’s strictly an in-studio band, that’d be fine, too.
Below, a short video documenting the recording sessions: