"Kinetic represents everything that is right with contemporary jazz...Telford announces himself as a vehemently original voice." - The Boston Globe
"Telford brings his own twist to the tale on Kinetic, by blending straight-up funk workouts with sparse, lyrical ballads and tunes that blend well-arranged horn charts with a loose, swanky 'jam-band' feel." - The Buffalo News
The great pitcher Satchel Paige famously said, “Don't look back, something might be gaining on you.” Trumpeter Erik Telford is looking ahead. “I believe that a lot of the jazz made in the last 15 to 20 years exists in the past,” he said. “It doesn't push the envelope enough and musicians often play it too safe. One of my goals musically is to honor the past while looking toward the future. I don't want to communicate with my audience in the lexicon of 1945 or 1956 or 1968. I want to communicate in a more modern language.”
It all clicks in at about 10 minutes into "Horizon Problem", the second track on Kinetic. At that moment, all the intersecting lines that have been building and churning finally crash together into a defiant statement of the melody, and you just know everything will be alright. And it is that mixing, that melding of influence and concept, that makes Kinetic a joy to listen to, whether you listen with your hips or your head.
Despite Telford's firm conviction to move into the future, he is not without respect for what has come before. It's clear from his music, which mines some of the best of the electro-acoustic foundation laid down in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Telford reaches beyond the obvious, though, pulling in horn arrangements (such as at the end of "3012") that would be at home on a ska recording or one of the better Brand New Heavies records.
Telford believes music should be able to rise to the big challenges and discuss the weighty topics: “What does it mean to be a human and what are our responsibilities to each other? How can music make this a better place to live? Even songs with lyrics aren't always literal. When you're dealing with instrumental music it becomes even more challenging to tell someone your message clearly.”
He is up to that challenge. After 20 minutes of groove workouts, the listener is brought up short by the gorgeous and tender "Rosemary". Written in memory of Telford's mother, the ballad features an arresting trumpet performance that tells you all you'll need to know about loss in three wrenching minutes.
And listen, we've got to say the name: Miles Davis. Telford is an avid fan of the late trumpeter, and like Davis he is not afraid to bring more than just his trumpet to the party. Telford makes intelligent and tactical use of effects, but he also knows when to just toss his head back and crush a solo – check out his opening solo on "Kinetic", for just one example. (Speaking of the title track, Telford recorded it with the East Coast band with which he crystallized many of his current musical ideas: keyboardist Nick Murray, guitarist John Viviani and drummer Devon Trammel.)
Davis is recognized for another particular talent – picking his bands. Telford excels here, too, surrounding himself with musicians who share his vision and are informed by many of the same cultural and generational touchstones. And they can play. Drummer Charles Phillips and bassist Marcus Cardwell are crucial to the success of this music, and they control the bottom and the flow with muscle and taste. Keyboardist Angelo Lambesis and guitarist Danny Anderson bring color and texture to Telford's compositions, and also lend smart solo voices, such as on their back-to-back solos on "Death Trap", or Anderson's incendiary work on "The Rival". And Telford has found two perfect companions in the front line in reed player Matt Malley and trombonist Ulrican Williams.
In the end, like the best music, Kinetic is not a rejection of the past, but a synthesis of it. Erik Telford and his band have filled a bucket at an old well, and now they're giving us a chance to drink the fresh, cool water.
(Jason Crane is the host of the jazz interview show The Jazz Session, online at thejazzsession.com.)