By Brian Slattery | Sep 24, 2015 6:47 am
“Black Rock,” the opening cut from Nick Di Maria’s Time Circuit, starts with a calm, spaced-out organ loop, atmospheric drums. Then a four-note bass line drops in, giving a sense of what’s ahead. Without warning, yet coming in right where it sound, the drums set off on a rhythm that wouldn’t be out of place on a James Brown record. And then there’s Di Maria’s trumpet, clear and precise. Except that it’s also run through a wah-wah pedal.
The arguments over jazz — what it is and what it isn’t, whether it’s alive or dead — aren’t going away any time soon. Meanwhile, a lot of musicians are planting their flags in one era of it or another. The past few years have seen a crop of young bands going all the way back to the beginning, making the same kind of sound jazz bands made in the 1920s. New Haven’s own Firehouse 12, which starts up its fall concert series this Friday, has become a kind of fortress for the music in its most contemporary incarnation. Somewhere out there, someone must be shredding Charlie Parker licks. On Time Circuit, New Haven-based trumpeter Nick Di Maria casts his lot with the jazz of the 1970s: Miles Davis when he shed some of his utter cool and started hanging out with electric guitar players, Herbie Hancock at what many consider the height of his powers.
And judging from the resulting album — Di Maria’s fourth, which he released earlier this month—it’s a pretty good place to be. Di Maria and his band (click on the sound file above for a sample) have been gigging pretty relentlessly for a while, and it shows. On the album, Andrew Kosiba on Fender Rhodes electric piano, Andrew Zwart on bass, and Eric Hallenbeck on drums are a tight, sinuous unit. They know what to do with the material and do it right.
The album’s devotion to the 1970s isn’t slavish either. Kosiba’s Rhodes is something of a sonic signifier of that era, but — appropriate to the title of the album — having started circa 1973, the band easily moves backward and forward through time from there. For good measure, on a few cuts (“Balance” and “Decoy”) the group shows that it hasn’t forgotten how to swing like they did in the 1950s. But the most successful pieces on the album (in this reporter’s humble opinion, “Black Rock,” “Drift,” and “The Poet”) are the ones that take the sound of 1970s jazz and update it, subtly but surely, making the kind of record one can make now that we’ve had four decades to digest what that era of jazz was all about.
In Di Maria’s case, he thoughtfully tones down a lot of that era’s excesses, but keeps intact its propulsive rhythmic sensibilities, its shifting harmonic density, and the wider sonic palette that’s possible when musicians go electric. This makes Time Circuit an intelligent and emotional record, sometimes moody, sometimes playful, and often danceable. It is, in a word, groovy.