Justin Piper serves as a musical director for one band, leads his own trio, and performs frequently on solo guitar. He plays guitars, bass, and Rhodes on his album Avant Funk (justonemusic) with Tom Garrington on drums. All 12 of the compositions on the album are written and arranged by Piper himself.
The album opens with I Fall Down. The solo guitar intro is joined by bass and drums in the laying down of the groove that is woven in and out throughout the piece. The guitar approach is often reminiscent of Progressive Rock guitarists like Roine Stolt—tightly harmonic with fascinating chord changes. His technique is beyond reproach with clean lines and distinct phrasing. Garrington’s drumming is also more rock than Jazz or Funk.
Buzz Book, however, brings a more Jazz-oriented approach with smooth syncopation and a cool groove. The bass and drums are in tight together with the Rhodes. The guitar begins to explore interesting avenues and finds cool expressions in the search.
When I’m Alone is a lyrical and emotional piece that is well-crafted and played beautifully. It has a bluesy edge to the otherwise Progressive/Jazz intonations. His electric guitar overlays the acoustic guitar to create a Steve Howe feel in its pure emotionalism. Beautiful.
Rolling Blue Hill carries a nice, tight groove under Jazz guitar. Garrington has some excellent moments on the drums. This was a standout piece and full of charming chords and cool twists. The 1,1-2-3,1-2 motif is a nice touch.
Big Rock is a rock-themed exercise in virtuosity and rock rhythms. Piper takes on a corps progression approach to the main theme and launches into cool riffs off of that theme. Often working on Martin Barre intonations, Piper then dives deep into fine lines of Funk and even a bit of Gospel.
Two Whee’s opens with a guitar arpeggio that remains a backdrop while Piper’s bass follows a separate line with Garrington’s drums. The lead guitar takes off on intriguing side streets but returns to the main theme early and often. The lead guitar creates fascinating riffs of its own and explores them well.
Somnambulist begins on a cool walking groove. Get it? Nice tongue in cheek approach to the title. The rhythm section keeps the walking while the guitar takes a dream-like tone, both broken by interludes of intentional stumbling. Garrington gets in some interesting strokes beneath the walking bass lines. This was a favorite.
What’s This? is a hard-driving groove with even chording from Piper’s lead guitar. The chord changes are full of interesting choices and I mean that in a good way. The proficient runs are tight and intense. Nice work.
Yo Yo Pop has a snappy intro that leads into a complex rhythm/strum pattern and nice work on the Rhodes, being in lock-step with the main theme. It offers some cool moments of lead guitar and sweet swing.
Could I Have a Redo? opens with an acoustic/electric guitars duet. The drums join in gentle background rhythm. I enjoyed the melody and movement of the piece. The tempo picks up and the rhythm section steps forward while the electric guitar takes the lead. The duet returns in complementary tones and phrasings. Sometimes in life, we need a redo. But not here. Piper got it right the first time.
Look at the Tars is a stinging piece with geared-up guitar and driving bass and drums. The electric guitar is again more Progressive than Jazz. That’s not a bad thing. I like Progressive.
At the mid-point of the song, Piper breaks away from the main theme and takes rewarding risks before returning to the main theme. In the final section, he again breaks away into expressive thoughts and cool conclusions.
The album closes with Tonic Immobility. This is a cool foray into Eastern melody and structure. Piper saved the best for last. Garrington lights up with some of his best work. I was digging some of Garrington’s rhythmic choices and break lines.
Meanwhile, Piper follows a break-neck pace that works extremely well with Garrington’s rhythms. The harmonic guitars are on fire. The Rhodes picks up the theme and fades out momentarily before fading back in with it. The bass and drums rejoin the slower development of the resurgent theme. The electric guitar resumes its lead but moves away from the theme as the song and album fade out.
Justin Piper has composed deliberate and fascinating pieces full of excellent rhythms, tempos and melodies. Tom Garrington supports him successfully and with dedication to Piper’s vision. Avant Funk emerges as an album of fine artistry and the beginning of a musical quest that we should follow with rapt attention.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl