“Modern” has always been one of my least favorite genre prefixes. With the myriad of stylistic tags at artists’ disposal, it seems like an odd choice to fixate on the recency of a piece of music as a means of describing its sound. As is demonstrated by any number of revivalist movements operating in the current music landscape, “modern” music isn’t always a guarantee of fresh, forward-thinking ideas, and in my experience, the tag is often used to posture standard genre fare delivered with a newer sheen as something new and revelatory. Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and when it comes to this particular pet peeve of mine, I’ve never been happier to have a band prove me wrong as wrong as COAST do with their phenomenal self-titled debut. Every aspect of COAST embodies what “modern” jazz should represent. Over the course of the album’s six brilliant tracks, the quartet executes jazz’s greatest traits with precision and agility. In short, COAST offers everything jazz fans love about the genre, except this time, it’s simply performed at a better, higher level.
The quartet’s success is firmly rooted in their inseparable musical chemistry; these guys could probably improvise with each other blindfolded. Sax, guitar and keyboards effortlessly weave through passages of heavy, rhythmic passages of jazz fusion magic, with the trio alternating which configuration of players breaks off to form a duet. This, along with some truly inspired drumming throughout, leads to a thoroughly rhythmic performance defined as much by the quartet’s musical prowess as their powerful collective presence. Other than the light, breezy, Central Park soundtrack found on “Dance 35,” the bulk of COAST is a commanding affair of bold solos and masterful compositions, as if John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock took the reigns during a studio session for BADBADNOTGOOD or Monobody (minus the math rock).
Most jazz listeners will be immediately won over by the first minute of “Blackline.” Opening with a captivating synth melody that lingers on each note, the band goes on to meticulously add on each subsequent element, slowly introducing drums, guitar and organ in a rumbling fashion. Finally, guitar and sax link up to unfurl their own rendition of the song’s opening melody, dancing through complex patterns and developing their interplay to touch on some sharp tangents that broaden the melodic and technical appeal of the underlying composition. The duo of guitar and sax eventually ebb and flow with some subtle synth textures that add alluring sonic depth for the listener to lose themselves within, all while the drums punctuate each note with measured bombast.
As if the degree of quality present on each track accomplishes on COAST wasn’t enough already, each subsequent track somehow manages to further the album’s steady incline. If ever anyone daydreamed about Coltrane making a jazz-rock album, they’d be given a convincing substitute in the form of “Or Not.” The track floats with the grace of My Favorite Things or A Love Supreme and stings with a savage right hook of Merkabah, all while maintaining their own distinct musical finesse and poise. “White Water” takes this thought process down an even heavier path, with crashing snares and cymbals cascading around hefty notes and elongated, mystic passages that would make Miles Davis nod and smile. There’s innate beauty behind all of this madness, though, a truth most evident on “Tide” and “Obin.” Both tracks land serious emotional punches, but at the same time, they offer up atmospheres swirling with airy synth melodies, whirring sax, careful strumming and shimmering piano.
As should be apparent by now, the musical complexity of COAST is incredible. It’s always refreshing to find a group so assured in their ability to pull off a wide variety of musical moods. Instead of relegating their talents to clean nu-jazz or boisterous jazz rock romps, COAST scoffs at the notion of boxing in their talents and instead compose jazz that touches on the genre’s eclectic history of mood swings and wandering eyes. What makes COAST so deserving of the “modern jazz” moniker is their music’s holistic approach to the genre’s past, present and future. With the ability to synthesize these periods seamlessly and effectively, the quartet achieves a formula with endless appeal and possibilities. Because with this level of performative and compositional talent on display, it’s clear COAST’s only limits are those laid out by jazz itself, a genre historically known for defying its own rules on a regular basis. Even so, every genre grows stale, which is why groups like COAST are so refreshing. Reinvigoration is most effective when looking both in and out, and these six tracks show a group of musicians with a laser focus on both the core of jazz’s greatness and the future territories that can add to the genre’s legacy.
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COAST is available now via the always incredible Art As Catharsis. You can purchase the album digitally or on CD through the Bandcamp link above.