“Jazz Fusion” might be the most poorly implemented description in the modern music lexicon. Okay, so it takes elements of jazz and fuses them… with something. Fused with what, exactly?! The phrase suggests a sort of violent stylistic marriage, as though jazz were combined with other musical genres through a series of hideous spot welds and the liberal use of black electrical tape. Greene Coast’s approach is smoother and more inviting to the listener, avoiding the musical elitism that so often results from fusion groups. Instead, the band takes elements of jazz and strategically blends it in a recipe of pop-ready jam-band music to create the eleven tracks on Journal.
Wait, poppy, sorta-jazzy jam-band music? Rest assured, this isn’t Dave Matthews Band; rather, it’s more of an evolution of ’70s instrument-ensemble bands such as Steely Dan and Chicago Transit Authority–before they became Chicago and dumbed their sound down a bit for mass consumption.
The first half of Journal isn’t very daring, but the music is composed well and makes good use of all the instruments in the band’s collective repertoire. (Yes, that’s a flute you hear on “Puzzled,” courtesy of saxophonist Grant Maledy.) Credit Greene Coast for that; generally, the band is less interested in giving a sonic Master Class than in reaching its audience with the right vibe. So much of jazz fusion results in performances that stiffarm the audience, leaving it feeling cold even if it is impressed. Greene Coast’s jam-band leanings keep them in tune with the feel-good vibe (”Devil Left,” for example, is practically a slow-paced reggae song), while there’s just enough pop structure in some songs to suggest the possibility of wider appeal. (”Typical” would be a good example of this.) Greene Coast flexes its muscle a bit more on the album’s second half, following the divine instrumental “Scout’s Paw” with the trippy and acrobatic (listen to that bass play from Brandon Henson!) “1 or 7.” All of this is remarkable for how effortless it seems; the elements Greene Coast blends aren’t easily fit together, but the group’s members are all very seasoned musicians. In all, Journal is deceptive in that it sounds like an album that’s easy to listen to and difficult to play. Perhaps a “don’t try this at home” label is in order.
Good as it is, Journal does not do Greene Coast’s live show justice; like the jazz and jam styles they draw influence from, the band’s energy is different in front of an audience compared to in front of a microphone. So if you’re new to the group, consider its December 12 CD release party at the Outland Ballroom a trial run. If you like what you hear in person, pick up Journal and delve further into Greene Coast’s style melange. We’re deliberately avoiding the word “fusion,” here.
-Chris DeRosier, thefourfour.com