jeff coffin airYou've got all the funky, jazzy grooves you can ask for on Jeff Coffin and The Mu'tet's latest release: Into The Air...
Into The Air
Jeff Coffin and The Mu'tet
Ear Up Records
10 tracks / 57:51

You've heard him wailing away on sax and riffing airily on flute for the likes of Dave Matthews, Bela Fleck and, yes – Charlie Peacock! Jeff Coffin is a prolific session player and one of the most well-respected musicians in the jazz fusion world. That he's able to straddle the pop and jazz scene with such dexterity is testament to Coffin's mastery of his instruments. Every now and then the sought-after Coffin assembles a band of stunning musicians and puts out a project of his own – and so we have Into The Air, by Jeff Coffin and The Mu'tet - a celebration of great playing.

When an artist of this caliber pulls together a group of friends you can be sure it's gonna' cook. With Jeff Sipe on drums and percussion, Kofi Burbridge on piano, keyboards and flute, Bill Fanning on trumpet (and 'space trumpet'), and the amazing Felix Pastorius (son of Jaco) on bass, the Mu'tet lays down the better-part-of-an-hour's worth of soulful, funky, jazzy instrumental jams. As if the talent pool wasn't crowded enough, additional friends, Lionel Loueke (electric guitar and vocalization), Caleb Mitchell (percussion), and Gavin Knight (shaker) join them on a few tracks.

Right from the start, the slow, funk-filled first song, "A Half Sleep," gives us a thick groove powered by a classic Fender Rhodes sound and incredible bass runs. This sets the stage for the tone of the album, which is more about expanding a groove than 'ABA' composition (of course these guys could probably spill ink on a piece of music paper, play it, and make it work).

Having seen Coffin perform live, I'm convinced that the hard thing for him to do would be to try and find some wrong notes. Whether the tempo is kicked up, like on "Lucky 13," more laid back, like on "Loueke," or out-and-out slow, like on the dreamy, trance-like, "Slow Glass," Coffin and The Mu'tet settle in, establish a groove, and play the heck out of it.

Produced by Coffin, Into The Air has a warm, clean sound with each instrument wonderfully recorded and perfectly balanced in the mix. Pastorius' amazing bass work, for instance, is never overpowering and yet never lost. The delightful drum work on "Backin' Up" is similarly handled so that we get the power of Sipe's playing, hearing every nuance without clipping the sound. Coffin produces with the attack of a rocker but the taste and restraint of a jazz artist.

The operative word here seems to be funk. There's lots of it – whether played strait, or with a wah-wah, or other electronic tweaking, the ten tracks on Into The Air are jazz-fusion jams that flirt intimately with funk, and rock with so much soul that you wonder how they'll ever get out of a groove that deep. As good as that is, it also makes it hard to solidly latch on to a particular song by melody or hook. It's all good (as they say) but not hummable. 

"Low Spark," with its middle-eastern vibe, and the pastoral calm of the album's closer, "Beautiful Flower," break the funk-spell and become more memorable tracks because of it. Certainly, it would be great to hear what these guys would do with some standards, or at least more traditionally formatted songs, where there would be more opportunity to get tasty with some strong melody.

But, meanwhile, they bring the funk on Into The Air – and man, can these guys cook!

-Bert Saraco

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