Trumpeter Taylor Haskins‘ latest album Fuzzy Logic is out this week. (Buy it from Amazon.) In addition to trumpet, Haskins plays melodica and Native American drone flute on the disc; he’s joined by guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Kermit Driscoll, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, as well as a string trio: Joyce Hammann on violin, Lois Martin on viola, and Jody Redhage on cello. All the compositions are by Haskins, except for a version of “Airwaves,” by Thomas Dolby (seriously) and one of “Take It With Me” by Tom Waits, which closes the disc.
As might be expected given the presence of string players, Fuzzy Logic is a slow, stately album of ballads, meditative and somewhat mournful at times. At 10 tracks in under 45 minutes, it’s also concise, despite the patient way each piece unfolds. The cover art is a watercolor painting of hills reflected in water, and that imagery is extremely representative of the sounds within. The whispering, droning flute, which is the first instrument heard on opening track “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled,” grounds the music in nature; as the strings and Driscoll’s bass begin to fill in around Haskins, he switches to trumpet and begins expanding on a relatively simple melodic figure, his phrases careful and perfectly timed like a man walking across an ice-covered lake. The transition from improvisation to composed melody (perfectly echoed by the string players) is seamless.
Stream “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled”:
On the next track, “Four Moons,” the music becomes more energetic; Haskins’ playing is more exploratory, and the strings stab and zing as they might in the work of Alice Coltrane, as Hirshfield sets up a near-militaristic rhythm and Monder offers atmospheric, post-Bill Frisell chords in the background, never soloing, always supporting. The version of Thomas Dolby‘s “Airwaves,” from his 1983 debut album The Golden Age of Wireless, is quite lush, in its way, Haskins making his way through the soaring pop-ballad melody before stepping aside so Monder can rip into a distorted, staticky solo (the first of two; the second is even more raucous, verging on metal). When he returns to the spotlight, the trumpeter takes a soaring solo of his own, heading into the pop-jazz territory beloved of players from Chuck Mangione to Chris Botti. From a thematic and a sonic perspective, “Airwaves” would seem to stand out, but somehow it fits into Fuzzy Logic‘s landscape quite well, bringing the album’s first half to a crescendo.
The album’s second half largely recapitulates the achievements of the first, though it begins with possible the jazziest piece on the disc, “Perspective,” which almost swings at times. It also includes the album’s shortest track, the 1:46 “I Believe in You,” which just seems to be getting going as it jerks to a halt. The disc-closing take on Tom Waits‘ “Take It With Me,” from Mule Variations, is a fascinating sidestep. Haskins plays melodica, which sounds like a slightly distorted harmonica, following the song’s melody slowly and carefully as Monder shadows him. It’s a gentle coda to a disc that virtually demands to be heard from a comfortable chair, if not curled up on the couch under a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. In some ways, Fuzzy Logic is reminiscent of the work of Norwegian trumpter/flautist Arve Henriksen, albeit without Henriksen’s reliance on a sometimes stagy naïveté. Haskins has no need to pretend to be a childlike explorer—instead, he marries creativity to discipline, and surrounds himself with sympathetic compatriots, and the result is a powerful statement that never needs to thrust itself upon the listener. Instead, it surrounds you like a mist that slowly drifts past, leaving behind gentle impressions and pleasant memories.