Lots of things are deceptive, and deviant from the typical track of music, about Joan Torres, and what they do here with Of the Musical. First of all, Joan Torres (a guy) and his band made a path from Puerto Rico all the way to San Francisco to embark on projects in the music industry, with their laid-back jazz fusion. In a way, for jazz fusion to effectively be “laid-back” is refreshing and illuminating, on its own.
Another odd thing is that the band’s leader, Torres, is the bassist. You might think this mismatch of willingness to grab attention and “underling” status of musical instrument would make for some hamhandedness or inferiority complex on the part of Torres, and indeed, at times this isn’t too far from being the case.
But then, this is jazz fusion — as the band’s name even suggests, “All is Fused.” You better come with some chops, or go home.
Certainly, now, it’s hard to listen to Of the Musical as true jazz, since they lack a trumpet. Luckily, along with Torres’ somewhat impressive, somewhat annoying tendency to dizzy up the mix with a deluge of bouncy notes, Jonathan Sauzo is quite versatile on the saxaphone. On the opening track “Invaded,” for instance, he takes the melody and things get rich and reflective, somewhat like one of the slower Bela Fleck & The Flecktones cuts. But by the end of the track, he’s sparking in with this sort of frantic technique which is a lot like what I’ve heard by Mac Gollehon on the trumpet (http://dolbydisaster.com/?p=20264) — like sound confetti, something signifying a rush of the excitement of life, but more than anything, confusion and warning.
Since Of the Musical can firmly be classified as “jazz fusion,” the music necessarily doesn’t stray very far into “dark” realms, at least not habitually. For this reason, it is helpful that these guys really do have chops, and are able to tweak and skew our conceptions of what their respective instruments can do — as if they’re reacting to the more crowded and chaotic world, but at the same time refusing to really change their m.o. This is still organic music which could have been made in the 1940s.
Aside from the lack of trumpet, really, Of the Musical isn’t too different from Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. It’s got the victor’s jazz feel — it’s energetic music which isn’t afraid to get grand, and make large, sweeping statements by slowing things down. It’s even got something more of the melancholy, in a way, than The Epic — and languid album interludes like “Ultramarine” have a way of playing like atonement for all the deaths that happened lately, both in and out of America. Plus, the lead guitarist steals the show on this particular session, shredding away during a climax with some serious close picking, and then some strategic heaping of melody with the help of a mellow pedal or two.
But getting to how so many of the guys have a moment of stealing the thunder on Of the Musical, this is a blessing as well as its problem — something resembling identity crisis. On “Constant Stream,” the intro. is like a cool, snarky R&B, and then things get overly jazzy. What this amounts to basically is that it kills the RHYTHM. You can’t dance to jazz, in other words, except swing, and no one wants to do that. At least, I hope not. Maybe Torres and company are trying to get us to stop dancing and pay attention to more serious matters, and I guess this is a pretty close second to what could have been.