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Arc of the Circle
Artist: Jeff Coffin and Charlie Peacock
URL: http://www.charliepeacock.com http://www.jeffcoffin.com
Label: Runway Network
Time: 10 tracks/42:09
What do you get when you mix a Peacock with a Coffin? Hold on, hold on – don’t go there. What do you think this is: Monty Python?! Horn-master Jeff Coffin meets keyboard-man extraordinaire, Charlie Peacock and the result is some instrumental jazz that will catch your soul and challenge your mind.
Jeff Coffin, perhaps best known as Bela Fleck and The Flecktones’ amazing horn-man, and Charlie Peacock, solo artist and producer of many well-known artists (mostly found in the Christian music industry), have teamed up on a musical exploration that has resulted in an elegantly-eclectic instrumental jazz project called Arc of the Circle. A busy side-man and solo artist , Coffin has put aside the wailing, funk-inflected soloing of his Flecktone work and Peacock has taken off his ‘pop music’ hat to replace it with a suitable pork-pie variety, as the duo dug in together for some musical home-cooking at Charlie’s Nashville studio/living space. The result of the reportedly non-stop session is a collection of ten tracks that explore composition, improvisation and experimentation while somehow retaining a definite sense of direction at the same time.
Those who were delighted by Peacock’s Love Press Ex- Curio and Coffin’s recent Mutopia projects will be happy to find that Arc of the Circle is a satisfying synthesis of the two approaches: Coffin (tenor sax, clarinet, flute, percussion) lends a bit more funk and melodic direction to Peacock (pianos, synths), who injects some serious experimentation, modern electronics and old-school jazz piano in return. Although it’s really impossible to say who was totally responsible for what (“All compositions by Jeff Coffin and Charlie Peacock” is the official credit), it’s safe to say that there was significant give-and-take on these sessions. You can clearly hear the musical dialog between Peacock’s keyboard and Coffin’s various wind instruments as the compositions evolve and take shape. Obviously, the two musicians developed a rapport that produced an unusually fluid and enticing final product, even given the apparent fact that Charlie and Jeff certainly must have done a good amount of editing and after-the-fact overdubbing. In addition to the two principal musicians, _Arc of the Circle_ features contributions from Marc Ribot (electric and resonator guitar), Tony Miracle (electronics and laptop), Joe Murphy (tuba), Ken Lewis (percussion), Derek Phillips (drums and xylophone), and Chad Howat (additional synths and percussion), who round out and add flesh to these songs, many of which are hung on the bone-and-muscle of Peacock and Coffin’s strong improvisations.
The title track opens the album with airy call-and-response runs on piano and sax, as the two instruments engage in dialog with each other, the passages going from lyrical to explosive and back again before ending in a staccato dance punctuated with xylophone accents. Like an arc of a circle, the piece makes no attempt at wholeness (in terms of beginning, middle, and end) but exists as a segment, conceptually adaptable to any part along the path of a greater musical whole. Similar to many other moments on the album, “Arc of the Circle” sounds almost like musical stream-of-consciousness, which I suspect it is – in this case, of course, the ‘stream’ is music and the consciousness is shared by two masters of their craft.
Songs like “Red Dice Mice,” start out sounding like ambient electronic music before falling into a light guitar/drum/percussion groove that shortly bursts open with the addition of percussive and quirky horn and piano parts – a whimsical side-trip ending in an almost pastoral mood created by Coffin on multiple wind instruments. Derrek Phillips gets to showcase his very tasty skills as a jazz drummer on “Downstairs Room of You,” which begins and ends with his impressive stick work, while Coffin and Peacock are featured inside the percussive bookends. “Carthel Hill” and “Trochilidae, A Day” conjure up some “Burnt Weenie Sandwich” era Zappa with alternating tempos, frenetic sections, and unexpected moments of flute/clarinet/sax in a sort of calming harmony. An eight-note melody introduces “Beautiful Beggar,” which takes on a nice melancholy funk, leading nicely into the cool, smoky jazz of the aptly named “Between Joy and Sorrow.” “Redux: Porky, Boots and Floyd,” closes the CD sounding more like a ‘real’ band than the rest of the CD does.
This is free-form music captured and tamed (but not too tamed) just enough to become palatable to those of us who don’t necessarily understand the complexities of what we’re hearing, but recognize the spark of creativity and artistic _chutzpah_, none the less. This music is for the heart and the head, without excluding either camp, but providing an enjoyable, if challenging, musical experience even to those who enjoy jazz as a ‘casual observer.’
If this is what Peacock and Coffin can do on the fly, imagine what they can create when they write some material, polish it up, get some players together and jam. I’m ready for that one, guys. Meanwhile, though, I’ll dig this Arc.
By Bert Saraco
Add half a tock if you like a bit of musical challenge.