Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who we’ve covered fairly extensively in the last few years, released his latest album last week. Titled Face Forward, Jeremy, it’s the second disc by his new electric band, first heard on last year’s Water and Earth. (Buy it from Amazon.) The lineup has shifted slightly: tenor and soprano saxophonist Roxy Coss; keyboardists David Bryant (on Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and piano) and Frank LoCrasto (on Fender Rhodes); drummer Dana Hawkins; and vocalist Fabiana Masili return, but bassist Chris Smith replaces Burniss Earl Travis, and there are a few other new faces: Brandee Younger and Jennifer Shaw play harp and cello, respectively, on “Rastros,” and Milton Suggs sings on the album’s final track, “Verse.”
Face Forward, Jeremy kicks off with “Higby Part 1” (there is no Part 2), a brief but evocative vignette for reverb-swathed trumpet, gentle piano, and heavily strummed upright bass. When the first proper track, “Stars are Free,” kicks in, the first sounds we hear are a primitive-sounding drum machine and softly plucked electric bass, before electric piano and live drums start to fill in the background. Pelt’s trumpet sounds like he’s blowing through a wad of cotton wool, as the music shifts and shimmers, equal parts trip-hop and jazz-rock. Comparisons to Herbie Hancock‘s Mwandishi septet have been made, but there are a lot more similarities to Mwandishi trumpeter Eddie Henderson‘s mid to late ’70s solo albums for Blue Note, particularly 1978’s Mahal. (Not the straight-up disco/Donald Byrd knockoff stuff like “Prance On,” but if you can’t draw a straight line from “Emotions” to “Stars are Free,” you’re not listening.) Of course, there are plenty of touches that make Pelt’s music uniquely his own; Masili’s vocals, for example, add a Brazilian lilt to “Princess Charlie” and “Rastros,” and the use of harp and cello on the latter track is both imaginative and beautiful.
There’s plenty of aggression on Face Forward, Jeremy, too. The drum-and-drum machine outburst that opens “The Secret Code” takes jazz as close to drum ‘n’ bass as it’s ever gotten since Tim Hagans and Bob Belden conjured up the explosive Animation/Imagination in 1999. Similarly, “Glimpse” and “In My Grandfather’s Words” offer plenty of fire, as does “Princess Charlie,” once it gets revved up. Pelt is a fierce soloist, and in this context he’s a little more willing to blow the walls down than he was with his acoustic quintet of 2008-2012. Saxophonist Coss is a more lyrical player here, scrolling out long ribbonlike phrases that are occasionally picked up by the keyboards, to intriguing effect. Speaking of Bryant and LoCrasto, they avoid the twin pitfalls of electric piano in jazz—they’re neither attempting In a Silent Way-style sonic moonscapes, nor digging out clichéd soul-jazz riffs. Bassist Smith carves out a space for himself at all times, whether playing acoustic or electric, and drummer Hawkins is a heavy hitter with a swing that feels as informed by rock as jazz. This is a band that’s rapidly developing a voice unlike any other out there that I’m aware of, and with its shifts in mood and tone, Face Forward, Jeremy is an even better showcase for their collective skill and power than Water and Earth was—and that one made our year-end list, so…
Stream “In My Grandfather’s Words”: