Jazz is one of the few uniquely American art forms. As such, it has been incredibly progressive in the most literal sense of the word. Pop, classical, rock and avant-garde have all influenced, and been influenced by, jazz music. Virtuoso musicianship, long-form pieces, odd meters – all have been trademarks of the genre. It’s no wonder many prog diehards are also jazz aficionados. Beginning arguably with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, the first tentative links between jazz and rock were forged. In the seventies, bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report pushed the boundaries of what could be considered both jazz and rock. In the modern era, Snarky Puppy is leading the charge for the fusion of these genres, but they are certainly not alone. Thank You Scientist, Kamasi Washington and Adam Holzman are among the many contemporary artists spreading their tentacles into and out from the jazz idiom in inventive and interesting ways. Enter Colorado band Bigfoot Meter.
An instrumental band led by trumpeter Joey Blunk, who composes all the music, Bigfoot Meter introduce themselves on their social media as being influenced by Mahavishnu, Return To Forever and Gentle Giant. None of those bands leave their traces in the music directly, but the DNA of each is undeniably present. Not as fiery as any of the seventies giants of fusion, nor as sleepy as the soft jazz of the Kenny G era, these guys fall somewhere in between. While the talent of this band is evident from the first notes, at no point is the record a repository for a bunch of show boaters revelling in mindless noodling. Every member of the group gets to show off his or her chops, on pretty much every song, yet it always manages to be in service of the music.
Each of the six tracks is given plenty of room to breathe, most clocking in between seven and nine minutes. Opener Katana starts the proceedings with a synth and cleverly processed trumpet before launching into a more standard modern jazz/rock tune. The horn section – Blunk’s trumpet and tenor sax player Rhiannon Dewey – often remind me of Blood, Sweat and Tears. The sound is fat and crisp, the production pristine. In fact, kudos must be given to producer Brett Batterman, who has provided the entire record with incredible sonic clarity, making it a pleasure to listen to.
The title track, Bigfoot Meter, comes as close as they get to the claim of heavy metal jazz, which to these ears is not close at all. It’s more due to the sinister tone at the start of the song than any fuzzed-out guitar riff. Still, the horns juxtapose the darkness by adding a brighter sound over the top. It is the tension between the dark and the light that makes the song interesting, along with a pleasant sax interlude and multiple shifts of tempo. On nearly every song, electric piano provides the bedrock for each tune, hearkening back to the seventies giants. Keyboardist Jeff Jenkins manages to coax some interesting sounds from his synths but never really cuts loose until Broken Promises, where he duels beautifully with guitarist Andres Orco. The power of Mahavishnu’s One Word always feels to be lurking around the corner, but that ubiquitous mid-temp groove returns to throw cool water into a hot jam. That groove, though, works to perfect effect on Talk Is Cheap. Bassist Nate Marsh pushes the track along, defying the listener to pay attention to his subtle but expressive playing.
Speaking of duels, the jazz jam you knew was coming arrives in the form of nine-minute track NFSP. A more animated drum track would have elevated this song into the stratosphere. Instead, the other instrumentalists are allowed to shine. Again, a downtempo turn strips it of that potential ferocity. Drummer Michael D’Angelo ultimately redeems himself on the closing track, Under the Same Stars. Funnily enough, it’s a slow and dreamy tune with the unison horns adding to its ephemerality. However, D’Angelo is what keeps the track from drifting into the ether. I particularly like the way in which he uses his cymbals for colouring. Blunk also takes his star turn on this track. His echo-laden trumpet solo in the second half introduces a needed bit of aggression, like an angry cloud blocking the starry night from view, only for the stars to shine through again, a reflection of the promise this band holds.
Bigfoot Meter shows plenty of promise in this debut. A bit more fire could push their sophomore album to the next level. All the ingredients are in place – smart writing, enough complexity to deserve the prog label, and admirable musicianship. I’ll be looking forward to what the band comes up with next. Until then, this is an enjoyable, laid-back journey through the mellower side of fusion. Worth your time.
01. Katana (8:00)
02. Bigfoot Meter (8:58)
03. Talk is Cheap (7:14)
04. NFSP (9:06)
05. Broken Promises (5:11)
06. Under the Same Skies (8:23)
Total Time – 46:52
Joey Blunk – Trumpet
Rhiannon Dewey – Tenor Sax
Andres Orco – Guitar
Jeff Jenkins – Keyboards
Nate Marsh – Bass
Michael D’Angelo – Drums
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 15th September 2022