One of the great things in Modern Jazz is its ability to not only amaze but also surprise. Neil Kelly and Robby Elfman are perfect examples of that.
Let us stipulate from the outset that they both have the requisite virtuosity. These guys have got the goods and with them are Lukas Vesely on upright bass and First Orbit Sounds Records’ favorite hit-man, Joe DeRose, who has released two albums as leader and has contributed to several of Hristo Vitchev’s magnificent albums. DeRose sets the table that the rest of the artists feast upon.
Neil Kelly’s guitar work is fascinating and Robby Elfman’s sax is enthralling. The two of them are dynamic and so very imaginative. The original compositions are splendid and the covers incredible.
The album leads off with “Stylus.” It kicks off as a hard-driving funky bit of groove. Elfman’s sax is raucous and frenetic while Kelly’s guitar is a fine bit of elegant distortion, while both of them display their mastery amidst the fury.
I admit, I was taken in from the very beginning.
“Flowers in the Fossils” follows. Vesely and DeRose keep a tight groove while Kelly’s refined and melodic guitar lines are lively as well as lovely. Elfman’s sax is soars with Kelly’s cool rhythmic guitar strumming.
An altogether remarkable piece full of energy and soul.
The third track caught me by surprise. It opens with a dream sequence that floats along until the introduction of the melody itself. That melody is immediately recognizable from the first three notes—it is Henry Mancicn’s “Moon River.” It was a beautiful set-up for the melodic line.
It is Robby Elfman who initiates the melody. The sax effects give a sense of the music carried across the water. Fitting. Meanwhile, Kelly’s delicate tones and arpeggios create a ripple on the watery image that is impossible to resist.
At the halfway point, the sax picks up the momentum for a moment until surrendering to the wafting bass. The main theme is carried languidly to almost the end by Elfman. It is Kelly’s guitar that drifts the songs away.
That sweet sense is overrun by the furiousness of “Ugh the Thug.” The rhythm section sets into a swing beneath the throbbing but lively—even humorous—work of Kelly and Elfman.
A fun romp that grooves with the best of them, this must have been great fun for these four great musicians.
In fact, the entire recording carries the unmistakable impression of energetic interaction and musical camaraderie.
“Inner Mission” continues the upbeat groove and light-hearted expression of serious music. They are certainly enjoying themselves but these cats aren’t fooling around.
Vesely’s use of bass effects contribute to a Jaco-type fusion atmosphere. The trading between Kelly and Elfman is electrifying. The legato sax in punctuated by the light touch of the guitar. You know a piece is new and surprising when you can think of nothing with which to compare it.
But nothing could have prepared me for the track that followed. It was John Lennon’s “Julia.” As melancholy as the original, it expands the melody beyond the limitations of the voice. Elfman’s righteous improvisations on the vocal line and Kelly’s precise and harmonic response are heart-breaking.
This was a wonder. Kelly’s chords underneath are as enchanting as Elfman’s expansions on top. I couldn’t get enough of this one.
“Anybody in There” opens with DeRose’s rim playing followed by Vesely’s effected bass. Guitar and sax follow on top of the cool groove of bass and drums. Kelly’s rhythm guitar enhances the imaginative sax work of Elfman which abruptly surrenders to the distorted guitar; precision gives way to power… for a moment. Elfman returns with the three-note motif and the rhythm section closes it out.
The album itself closes with “Landscape,” based on a poem of the same name by Mina Kelly. The imaginative composition is a flawless soundtrack to the poem. It moves from pastoral moods to the finger-snapping cool of seascapes to windy whisperings.
The poem and the piece are inseparable. They are symbiotic and sensual. A thing of true beauty.
“Inroads” by Neil Kelly and Robby Elfman is a dive into cool rhythms and haunting melodies. The talents and skills of all four musicians create a prismatic effect of tone and groove. “Inroads” is precisely what Modern jazz should be—original, exciting, expansive and uninhibited. Kelly and Elfman do all of that while maintaining melody and emotion.
This is the stuff of the future.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl