Jazz CD Reviews
Erik Deutsch – Hush Money – Hammer & String
Published on December 7, 2009
Erik Deutsch – Hush Money – Hammer & String, 49:46 ***1/2:
(Erik Deutsch – keyboards; Jon Goldberger – guitar; Mike McGinnis – reeds; Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon; Jonti Siman – bass; Marc Dalio – drums; Eric Biondo – trumpet (tracks 4 and 9; Barry Saunders – baritone saxophone (tracks 4, 7, and 9)
Keyboardist Erik Deutsch may be best known within the jam base fraternity rather than among jazz listeners due to his association with Fat Mama and its offshoot A BIG YES… and a small no. Because of his fellowship in Charlie Hunter’s trio and his solo ventures, Deutsch is becoming a jazz artist to notice. However, Deutsch’s music is likely to be satisfying for those coming to jazz from the jam band or rock community, rather than jazz fans looking for something outside of the traditional norm.
On his self-released sophomore effort, Hush Money, Deutsch combines his roots: there are elements of the groove orientation that is a Hunter hallmark; there are bits and pieces from electric fusion; urban soundscapes slip in and out; and soul-jazz slides through as well. Arrangements run the gamut from acoustic reeds with piano atmospherics to fully electrified funk.
Despite Deutsch’s multi-keyboard talents, this is very much an ensemble affair, with important contributions from guitarist Jon Goldberger and bassist Jonti Siman, both members of Fat Mama and A BIG YES… and a small no. Rounding out the sextet is bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, who has been in the Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet and has extensive studio credits, and two friends from Deutsch’s Colorado days, multi-reeds artist Mike McGinnis and drummer Marc Dalio.
Deutsch opens with the pop instrumental title track, a mid-tempo creation fronted by Deutsch’s acoustic piano, Schoenbeck’s warm bassoon and a jaunty rhythmic bedrock. The tune starts out akin to something Bruce Hornsby might have written and then about halfway through Deutsch switches to a brief electronica bridge highlighted by loops, beats and swirling keyboards, then returns to the melody, during which Goldberger lays out some resounding guitar stabs. Deutsch studied with Art Lande and learned how to focus on harmony and lyricism to spin a story, and that education is apparent in the wordless lyricism that traverses the title track.
That’s followed by the two-part insect section, "Black Flies" and "Flytrap." "Black Flies" carries a subtle Latin groove emphasized by Dalio’s curled drumming. Goldberger turns the melody inside out with an electric guitar shout-out that transforms the pendulant piece into something darker and foreboding. The short "Flytrap," on the other hand, has an impressionist inclination with a cinematic and slightly phantomed characteristic that would easily flow under the closing credits for a modern ghost story film.
Three tunes expand the horns/reeds front line with excellent results. Trumpeter Eric Biondo and baritone saxophonist Barry Saunders help bestow the extroverted "Dirty Osso Bucco" a vertical, Southern equilibrium. The groove is up-front and the catchy melody again shows Deutsch’s ability to tell a tale through song. McGinnis, Biondo and Saunders trade lines back and forth while Deutsch, Siman and Dalio foment a burbling and infectious rhythmic swing. The metropolitan "Quittin’ Time" alludes to Deutsch’s Brooklyn home with its gritty groove and funky arrangement. Here, the horn section takes off and hits a firm soul posture while Deutsch’s organ brings back the seventies with aplomb. The Brecker Brothers might have formulated heavy metal bebop but Deutsch manages to carry that spirit forward into the present. Biondo drops out for the Afro-funk, beat-driven "India Rubber," thus allowing Saunders more space to show off his sax skills, which he does with energetic riffing. Siman’s bass rumbles with intent while Deutsch and Goldberger duel and near the end Schoenbeck furnishes an amplified, droning bassoon tableau.
Deutsch states, "I set out to make an atmospheric record, one that didn’t sound like a sparkly jazz CD." The enigmatically-named "Hearts for Purple Lions" certainly fits that description. Deutsch uses his keyboard arsenal to create an amicable saturated sound. The tempered, temperate cut is underscored by a roomy McGinnis flute solo and then a sympathetic Schoenbeck bassoon foray where she pushes the limits of her instrument. Deutsch traces a comparable trajectory on the "Incandescence," which features a Schoenbeck and McGinnis bassoon and clarinet duet that imparts the melancholy number with a minor classical slant which is echoed by Deutsch’s higher register piano chords. Deutsch closes with the likeminded "Slider," which blends sharp guitar, acoustic piano, electronic percussion, a lingering and lean beat and lightly dissonant reeds and horns. This is the nearest Deutsch and the ensemble gets to unconditional free improvisation. Cellophaned bassoon and washes of analog electric keyboards conclude the album’s longest undertaking.
Goldberger and Deutsch forge an appropriate sonic landscape throughout Hush Money. The project was recorded on analog tape, which gives the ten track, 50-minute record a vintage sound that supports the material without sacrificing audio clarity or quality, which is noted whenever flute, bassoon or clarinet work in tandem with drums, guitar or keyboards.
1. Hush Money
2. Black Flies
4. Dirty Osso Bucco
5. Hearts for Purple Lions
6. Get Out While You Can
7. India Rubber
9. Quittin’ Time
— Doug Simpson