Jeff Coffin & Mu'tet,
(Compass, 2001)

I've been familiar with Jeff Coffin's splendid sax work ever since he joined the Flecktones, adding his distinctive tone to their cookin' blend of jazz, funk and newgrass, so I was pretty excited to see that he was releasing a solo album. On Go-Round, he's backed up by Tom Giampietro on drums and percussion, Chris Walters on piano and accordion, and Derek Jones on acoustic bass. Several other fine musicians make some guest appearances (including Futureman from the Flecktones), and the overall result is well over an hour's worth of funky and imaginative jazz.

An Asian-sounding intro on double wood flutes carries us into "Tuesday's Waterloo," which boasts a driving, aggressive hard bop line. It's an altogether righteous, slammin' piece with great ensemble playing and solo work, especially from Tracy Silverman on six-string viola. A vaguely menacing walking bass line begins "Walking on Thin Water," in which Coffin takes an adventurous solo ride over a deep, deep groove. It's a stark and jagged composition, and Walters contributes a dandy solo that's both minimalistic and angular. The title track is quirky and twisting, but a bit more relaxed than what's come before. There's some sweet byplay between the sax and Roy Agee's trombone, and the smooth blend makes you wonder why the trombone isn't used more in contemporary jazz.

There's a passionate, nearly human cry in "Zuleikha," a musical noir with the rain falling on dirty streets at night. "Tall and Lanky" offers a change of pace in its hunk 'o funk, as does the slow and meditative "As in the Beginning..." with its klezmer-style clarinet. Coffin moves to soprano sax on "Playin' the Worm," another piece that shows the wide range of his compositional skills, and his ability to put a great hook into each and every one. This one boasts a solid bass solo by Jones. "Only Love" is a slow and evocative ballad, but there's always a dangerous edge to Coffin's playing, even on a piece this pretty. Think of him as the anti-Kenny G.

"Multa et Mira" is singularly wacky, with some exciting cross-rhythms, and everybody gets to stretch out on "Dewey," a 12:00+ track that offers marvelous interplay among the band and some tasty solos. "Ibrahim" wraps things up with a slow, majestic, reverent composition showing still another side of Coffin's compositional chops.

Critics who bemoan the demise of jazz need to open their ears a little more. The form is alive and well, ever changing and growing as long as there are bold musicians like Coffin and his cohorts, who take the best of the old and use it as a springboard to the new and exciting sounds you'll hear on this CD. If you're a jazz fan, this is a must have.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 24 May 2003

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